Celebrating after 11 years of wrongful imprisonment

The Wits Justice Project hosted a welcome home party for Thembekile Molaudzi who was imprisoned for 11 years for the crime he didn’t commit. Wits management, his family, friends and everyone who worked on his case came together at the Wits Club last night to celebrate.

TOGETHER AGAIN: Thembekile Molaudzi has been re-united with his wife Paulina Sheshabele  and their son.  Photo: Rafieka Williams

TOGETHER AGAIN: Thembekile Molaudzi has been re-united with his wife Paulina Sheshabele and their son. Photo: Rafieka Williams

Thembekile Molaudzi spent 11 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and last night he was able to celebrate his freedom with his family, the Wits vice chancellor and the people who worked on his release.

Molaudzi was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a policeman in 2002. Carolyn Raphaely, a journalist with the Wits Justice Project investigated Molaudzi’s case for more than three years.

Molaudzi said, “I’m not going to speak long, I just want to thank God and everyone who worked with me.”   He then asked his family to join him in a rendition of “Amazing Grace”, for guests. 

Molaudzi’s wife, Paulina Seshabele, also thanked the people who supported her husband; “I’m so happy, I don’t know how I can even express myself because every stress that I had is now gone”, she said.     Raphaely said Molaudzi is an extra-ordinary man who taught her the law, life, patience, persistence and forgiveness.  “I’m so grateful to have met you Thembekile, I’m proud to be your friend, I can only wish you the future you deserve”, she said as her voice faltered.  Molaudzi’s friend, Detective Abraham Fontos More, said Molaudzi was convicted before he became a police officer and he knew that he was innocent, “I was Thembekile’s hairdresser at the time he was arrested and I believed him when he said he was innocent.” He added that this was a lesson to him as a detective, “I learnt that you need to be extra careful before you arrest someone as a police. You need to investigate first.”

The vice chancellor, Professor Adam Habib apologised to Molaudzi, his family and colleagues for the experience he had to go through in a democratic South Africa.

“It was not only a violation of a human right, it was an example when a state’s capacity to deliver is compromised and how it can impact and have adverse consequences on ordinary people,” Habib said.

Oscar and Thembikile: Unequal justice in South Africa

Oscar Pistorius. Photo: Themba Hadebe Oscar Pistorius was due to be released on parole from the Kgosi Mampuru II prison this Friday.

His possible release to house arrest, once again questions the inequalities in the justice system of South Africa.

Pistorius was convicted of killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, last year. He was found guilty of culpable homicide despite prosecutor’s pursuing charges of first degree murder. In his defence, Pistorius claimed that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and so he was acting in self-defence. He was sentenced to five years but he will likely be paroled after only 10 months due to good behaviour.

In the same prison, two months ago a man strode out of prison after being wrongfully convicted 11 years ago. Thembekile Molaudzi, a taxi driver from Soshanguve, was arrested in 2002 after a co-accused falsely identified him as one of the suspects.

“Molaudzi, a former taxi-driver, was reliant on over-worked Legal Aid lawyers provided by the State while Pistorius, an affluent celebrity, had access to some of the best legal minds in the country,” Carolyn Raphaely, a Wits Justice Project Senior Journalist said.

Legal Aid are lawyers who are tasked with representing poor people who cannot afford to pay for their own representation. But they are often not able to properly defend their clients, something Pistorius did not have to worry about.

While Molaudzi was struggling to access the transcripts of his trial and having his Legal Aid lawyers fail him repeatedly, Oscar Pistorius had his trial quickly concluded with a very strong legal team with the tenacious Barry Roux as the lead.

The fact that Pistorius had a speedy trial was also a sign of the special treatment that might have been afforded him. According to Wits Justice, many people wait years for their trials to begin.

“A third of the South African prison population is locked up awaiting trial, many for years. Yet approximately two in five of these people will eventually be acquitted.”

“A third of the South African prison population is locked up awaiting trial, many for years. Yet approximately two in five of these people will eventually be acquitted.”

Molaudzi received life imprisonment for murder and robbery and the eleven years he spent wrongly imprisoned were traumatic ones.

Molaudzi reported that he and fellow prisoners were “made to strip naked and tortured by warders for no reason. We were made to squat up and down in front of females with our genitals showing for everyone to see. They shocked us with shock-shields, just for fun. And they klapped me because they said I was a gangster.”

In Pistorius’ case, prison officials recommended that he be released due to good behaviour.  According to Stephan Terblanche of the University of South Africa, the state’s prisons are overcrowded, so parole boards regularly recommend correctional supervision which includes house arrest.

The National Prosecuting Authority have filed an appeal against Pistorius’ culpable homicide conviction in the hope that it will be changed to murder which would result in a longer sentence. The appeal will be heard in November.

Wits Justice Project Symposium on Torture

The Wits Justice Project will host a symposium in light of the signing into law of the Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Bill, last year.

Training, sensitization and human rights education on the definitions and penalties associated with torture is crucial at this stage of South Africa’s history.

 The objective is to facilitate high-level discussions and reflections on:

a)      The first year of the “torture bill”: different perspectives from the authorities, civil society and experts. To include topics on:

  • achievements of the first year
  • the dissemination and training that is needed, for all actors and officials in the criminal justice system
  • awareness raising for the public
  • needed policy environment

b)      The necessary next steps needed for the ratification of the optional protocol of the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) and implementation of a national preventative mechanism.

When: 28 and 29 August 2014

Venue: Chalsty Centre, Braamfontein Campus West

RSVP by July 1, 2014 to Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi of the Wits Justice Project on nooshin.erfani-ghadimi@wits.ac.za.

Torture is illegal in South Africa

by Palesa Monaleng

On 30th July 2013 the Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Act was signed into law by the president of South Africa. Finally, torture is a crime in South Africa. According to the act, “torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for purposes including obtaining information or a confession; for punishment; or intimidation or coercion to prevent someone from doing something; or “for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.”

Wits Justice Project attorney Megan Geldenhuys confirmed that the attacks on the homeless on Johannesburg’s Rissik street amounts to torture within the definitions of the act.

With the historical lack of legislative provisions, torture has been carried out with impunity for far too long. And now that it has been criminalized, it is necessary to ensure that its provisions and safeguards are speedily communicated to every law-enforcement official and member of the judiciary.

How will the desk-sergeant in a rural police station in Mpumalanga know the difference between acceptable and excessive use of force? Training, sensitisation and human rights education is crucial at this stage of South Africa’s history.

Monaleng is a researcher at the Wits Justice Project. They can be contacted on: (011) 717 4686 or visit:witsjusticeproject.com

Wits Vuvuzela wins top prize

THE WINNING TEAM:  Wits Vuvuzela will be awarded the Vice Chancelor's Transformation Team Award in the student category for their work in exposing sexula harassment on campus. Photo: Dinesh Balliah

THE WINNING TEAM: Wits Vuvuzela has been awarded the vice-chancellor’s award for transformation for their work in exposing sexual harassment at Wits University. Photo: Dinesh Balliah

Ululation and singing is how this year’s Wits Journalism Honours class greeted the news of a vice-chancellor’s award earlier today. The Wits Journalism class of 2013 and their mentors have been awarded the 2013 Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Transformation (Team) Award in the student category.

The team of 17 students (referred to as #teamvuvu) have been awarded a R 20 000 prize as part of the award which will be used to advance the transformation agenda through its various publications.

“I think it’s a great achievement. This award shows the kind of impact that journalism can have on society;” said Sibusisiwe Nyanda, a member of this year’s class.

The student journalists were instrumental in exposing sexual misconduct by university lecturers by telling the stories of victims who felt that there were no other mechanisms to deal with their harassment. The coverage of Wits Vuvuzela resulted in a four month campus-wide inquiry into sexual harassment and the dismissal of three senior academics.  Dr Last Moyo, Professor Rupert Taylor and Tsepo wa Mamatu were dismissed following an independent university investigation.

In his motivation for the award, Professor Anton Harber, head of Wits Journalism wrote “Vuvuzela has become central to the framing of a campus community, providing links across a disparate and dispersed campus, offering more and constant communication in a way Wits has seldom seen before. This has given a sense that we are all involved and part of the debate and discussion of the (sexual harassment) issue.” He added: “Few things have had as much impact on
the story than the daily updates of the Vuvuzela website and the weekly distribution of the paper across campus.”

SEXUAL HARASSMENT EXPOSED: The front page of  the first article of many articles that exposed sexual harassment. Photo: Jay Caboz

SEXUAL HARASSMENT EXPOSED: The front page of the first article of many articles that exposed sexual harassment. Photo: Wits Vuvuzela

The team will receive their award on Friday at a gala dinner hosted by VC Professor Adam Habib. “This is an amazing honour. 2013 has been really good for Wits Vuvuzela,” said Liesl Frankson an Journalism Honours student.

This is just one of two awards that the Wits Journalism department, home to the Wits Vuvuzela, will receive this Friday evening. The Wits Justice Project, also part of Wits Journalism, will receive the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Academic Citizenship (Team). The Justice Project aims to investigate the plight of incarcerated prisoners. The team will be awarded R 40 000 for their efforts to promote prisoners rights and uphold justice.

“It [the award] speaks to the enabling environment that allows such good work to flourish,” said Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, project coordinator for The Wits Justice Project.

Witsie bail-out

Wits Legal Office bails students out of holding cells when they get arrested, even though they are not legally obligated to do so.
The legal office particularly assists students whose parents and guardians live far away. This practice has received mixed signals from Witsies though.

Witsie response

Some Witsies told Wits Vuvuzela they were upset there was a budget for bailing students out when many students faced financial difficulties.
“I find the bail thing very, very weird. Bail is a personal thing. There are so many students who are struggling financially and there are other needs such as fixing buildings,” said Nyakallo Motloung, 2nd year BADA.


“People don’t have the cash and you could get arrested if you are innocent.”



On the other hand, Stu Watt, 3rd year BA Fine Art, said he thought it was a fantastic thing: “Ja, it is good. People don’t have the cash and you could get arrested if you are innocent.”

Wits Legal Office response 

According to Wits Legal Office adviser Tasneem Wadvalla, the practice of bailing out Witsies is rare.
“If it’s our student and we can assist, we assist. That is what you need to know. We are here to assist students in so far as possible.”
Wadvalla said the reason the legal office assisted students with bail was that students did not have the money to cover bail.
“We do not judge the merits of that basis, we are not saying ‘yes, by us assisting you, you are not

“We don’t delve into the issue. We don’t go into that detail. It is simply assisting our students in so far as possible.”
The legal office also steps in to verify that students do in fact belong to the Wits community. This verification assists with reflecting that students are not a flight risk.

[pullquote align=”right”]”It is simply assisting our students in so far as possible.” [/pullquote]

Ruth Hopkins, a senior journalist at the Wits Justice Project, recently wrote an article in The Star that focused on the conditions in holding cells for prisoners awaiting trial and about abusive police officers.
“For the university to assist students with bail is actually fantastic. This is because there is much corruption in the justice system and the conditions of holding cells are appalling,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins’s article highlighted how many of the police service’s arrests are unjustified and random. It described how Steven Mothao was randomly stopped by the police and taken to a holding cell for no apparent reason.
“While onlookers gawked, the police officers slammed Mothao into a police van.

[pullquote]“I find the bail thing very, very weird.”[/pullquote] “He was detained in a police cell for 22 hours. For the first 14, he wasn’t offered a glass of water. Then Mothao was out on the street again.
“The police officers never identified themselves, they did not have an arrest warrant and and they did not inform Mothao of the reasons for his arrest.”

Have you heard about Prisoner A?

Story and images reproduced with permission of the  of the Wits Justice Project. Prisoner A, Ronnie Fakude, is a remand detainee, or a person awaiting trial behind bars. Read Carolyn Raphaely’s original story about Prisoner A on the Wits Justice Project site.


Prisoner A, a paraplegic remand detainee (Photo: supplied)

Carolyn Raphaely, the WJP senior journalist who wrote the story about Prisoner A, Ronnie Fakude, brings us an update on his situation:

The bail application of paraplegic Ronnie Fakude (aka Prisoner A) was heard in Court 26 of the Bloemfontein Regional Court yesterday, and will continue on March 25th.

Fakude has been awaiting trial in Bloemfontein’s Grootvlei prison since December 2011 without even the comfort of a wheelchair  – until the recent intervention of the Wits Justice Project and the Free State Association for Physical Disabilities (FSAPD).

With tears running down his face through much of his testimony, the 50-year-old paraplegic in nappies described his life in the prison. He told the court how hard it was for him to cope with the limited bathroom facilities and how difficult it was to keep his wounds clean. He also outlined his health problems, resulting from the poor prison diet.

Fakude has no bowel or bladder control. He also has ulcers, a damaged lung resulting from prison-acquired tuberculosis and is prone to infection because of his compromised lung. He has one kidney and his intestines are sutured because of injuries from the hijacking that caused his paraplegia. Predictably, he also suffers from depression.

Next Monday, Dr Reggie Mabuye, a private medical practitioner sent by the FSAPD to assess Fakude, will testify about his health and his medical requirements. Dr Mabuye will also testify about the medication he prescribed for Fakude.

Fakude has recovered since being placed on a drip two weeks ago but has remained in the hospital section because it is believed to be more comfortable. “The truth is, it’s a converted cell with single beds instead of bunks. It is less crowded than my former cell which housed 88 men because the cell was designed to only accommodate 32.”

Notes Fakude’s lawyer Herklaas Venter: “He looks very weak, still has bed sores and pressure sores and the prison doesn’t supply adequate nappies. However, the State is opposing his bail application because they believe he’s the mastermind behind a number of fraud cases…”

If you would like to help with Fakude’s medical expenses, please make your donation using the following banking details:

BANK ACCOUNT:    ABSA, Alice Lane Towers, Sandton

BRANCH CODE:     63-20-05

ACCOUNT NO:        10-4060-3511

REFERENCE:         Prisoner A

Please send an email, with your details and amount donated, to the National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in South Africa or NCPPDSA (Louise Bettel financialcontroller@ncppdsa.org.za).

Officials gather in the name of justice

THE conditions of remand detainees were highlighted this week by the Wits Justice Project.

Its conference, “Remand Detention: Challenges and Solutions”, took place on Wednesday at the Professional Development Hub on East Campus and was attended by various officials.

Jeremy Gordin, who heads up the project, spoke about the harsh jail conditions for remand detainees (prisoners awaiting the finalisation of their trials). “Justice delayed is justice denied. Remand detainees are still technically innocent… The aim today is to use a variety of perspectives to come up with solutions,” Gordin said.

He cited poor exercise conditions – where detainees are locked up for 23 hours a day – and no reading material as well as regular assaults by other inmates, gangs and even correctional service officials as some of the experiences which detainees face.

‘It could be you’ is the phrase the project is promoting to remind ordinary citizens of the seriousness of the situation.

Minister of Correctional Services Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula emphasised the changes that have taken place and future changes which will occur in order to combat the inhumane conditions.

“Remand detention has for a long time been the stepchild of the department of correctional services. This is where people are most vulnerable (awaiting trial).”

She spoke about the department’s investigation into over-crowdedness in prison   in February last year. Future initiatives include giving remand detainees uniforms which differ from the uniforms of convicted prisoners to avoid “the orange uniform which carries a stigma”.

Mapisa-Ngakula also commented on a forthcoming government White Paper to fill gaps regarding remand detainees.

Fusi Mofokeng, an innocent man who was sent to prison for 19 years, gave a brief description of the inhumane prison conditions. He was released on parole earlier this year with help from the Wits Justice Project.

He focused on the authority of gangs over inmates: “[We] went to bed without food, sometimes sacrificing it for safety with gangsters.”

Closing off the two morning sessions was a panel discussion with representatives from the CSPRI (Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative), Legal Aid South Africa as well as the Deputy Minister of Justice, Andries Nel.

“We must never forget that we are dealing with actual human beings,” the deputy minister said. “There is a great insistence on a tough attitude towards crime… the heart of this lies in building a stronger, more integrated, more co-ordinated justice system.”