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Car jamming pair wins appeal

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Staff Reporter

The Supreme of Appeal (SCA) has set aside a ruling by the South Gauteng High Court in which it increased sentences against two men convicted of theft.

Nhlanhla Arthur Kubheka, who is the first appellant, and Armstrong Ngidi, the second, were each convicted in the Randburg Magistrates Court on 12 October, 2017, on one count of theft of a cellular phone and an iPod out of a motor vehicle.

On January 23, 2018, Kubheka, who is an engineer by profession, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, of which two years were suspended for a period of five years on condition that he was not convicted of theft or any offence involving an element of dishonesty during the period of suspension.

He was 44 years old when the crimes were committed.

Ngidi, then 46, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment – he has qualifications in the hospitality industry.

The appellants were also declared unfit to possess a firearm in terms of section 103(1) of the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000.

Aggrieved by the outcome, the pair approached the High Court in Johannesburg to appeal against both conviction and sentence.

When the matter was heard on May 22, 2019, the High Court called upon the appellants to provide reasons why each of their sentences should not be increased on appeal in the event that the appeal against conviction was dismissed.

Evidence before court indicated that the pair had jammed the locking signal on the remote control of a Mercedes-Benz vehicle that had been parked adjacent to their motor vehicle, a Chevrolet Aveo, at the parking area of the Randburg Magistrates Court, and had stolen the cellular phone and an iPod.

There was also undisputed evidence from a security officer at the court, Winnie Mutavhatsindi, who observed the appellants through CCTV monitors leaving their motor vehicle and opening the door of the Mercedes-Benz.

This was further supported by more uncontested evidence that the iPod belonging to Anthony James Batistich, the complainant, was found in the backseat of the Chevrolet one of the appellants had hired, and in which they had travelled to the Randburg Magistrates Court.

One of the appellants had also demonstrated to the police officers how they used the remote jammers to prevent the locking of the doors of a motor vehicle.

However, the High Court set aside the sentences imposed by the regional court and substituted them with the increased sentences of five years’ and eight years’ direct imprisonment, respectively.

The High Court based its decision principally on the prevalence of the offence and that the offence had been carefully planned and executed.

It concluded that the regional court had downplayed the interests of society and overemphasised the interests of the appellants.

This forced the duo to launch a new appeal at the SCA.

The Bloemfontein-based court found that the trial court took into account all relevant factors, including personal circumstances, in considering an appropriate sentence for the appellants.

The court heard that Kubheka is a bachelor of commerce and bachelor of science engineering (cum laude) graduate who is a member of the Professional Engineers of South Africa.

He is a director of his own engineering company, which is based in KwaZulu-Natal with a staff component of 21 employees.

It also heard that he draws a net income of R1 million per annum; he is the father and sole-provider to eight children and that he was a first offender.

Ngidi told the court that he is married and a father of two children, who are dependent on him for financial support.

He said after completing matric he acquired the relevant certificates in the hospitality industry and he runs a marketing and catering company together with his wife.

His gross drawings totalled R69 000 per month and his company employed four permanent staff members.

He has two previous convictions for fraud and theft which happened more than 17 years prior to the time of sentencing in the latest case.

In aggravating the sentences, the regional court took into account the nature and seriousness of the offence, the value of the items stolen from the motor vehicle, the prevalence of the offence and that it required a skilled person to commit the offence.

“The individual sentences imposed by the regional court were appropriate as they took into account the purposes of punishment, which are aimed at rehabilitation, preventative deterrence and retribution,” read part of the judgment delivered by Justice Yvonne Mbatha on Wednesday.

The SCA ruled that the sentences imposed by the regional court should stand as they are appropriate to the offence committed by the appellants.

“. . . it is clear that having regard to the prevalence and seriousness of the offence and that the appellants could not have been motivated by need but rather by greed, there is no room for concluding as suggested on behalf of the appellants that correctional supervision was a viable sentence. The regional court can thus not be faulted for imposing direct imprisonment,” the SCA ruled.

Kubheka was therefore sentenced to four years’ imprisonment of which two years are suspended for five years on condition that the accused is not convicted of theft or any offence involving an element of dishonesty during the period of suspension.

Ngidi was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment.

The two were each declared unfit to possess a firearm.

National

17 confirmed dead at East London tavern

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HORROR AT CLUB . . . Police are investigating the deaths of at least 17 patrons at a tavern in East London

Authorities are investigating the deaths of at least 17 patrons found inside a popular township tavern in East London, police officials said on Sunday.

Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana said police were alerted by members of the public to the incident at Scenery Park, about three kms from the city centre.

“The circumstances under which they died are under investigation,” Kinana said, adding it was too early to determine the cause of death of the young adults aged between 18-20 years. – Reuters

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Zondo wants Magashule, Zwane charged over failed Vrede Dairy Project

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CALLING FOR ACTION . . . Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wants law enforcement agencies to pursue Free State government officials involved in the failed Vrede Dairy Project

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has marked the trio of former Free State premier Ace Magashule, former MEC Mosebenzi Zwane and former head of the provincial agriculture department Peter Thabethe as possibly liable for the infamous Vrede Dairy Project and wants them charged for their roles in the failed enterprise.

In the latest report of the State Capture Commission of Inquiry released on Wednesday evening, Zondo found that the Free State provincial government unlawfully paid a Gupta family-linked company, Estina, over R280-million for a project that ironically sidelined small-scale black farmers – the intended beneficiaries of the project – and got nothing in return.

“The whole Vrede Dairy Project (debacle) happened because Mr Thabethe dismally failed to do his job and failed to protect the interests of the [department of agriculture and rural development] and to protect taxpayers’ money,” read part of the report.

Thabethe is already facing criminal charges – together with other people and companies – in connection with the failed dairy project but the matter has been provisionally removed from the court roll.

Zwane and Magashule have however not been charged in the matter.

“It also happened because Mr Mosebenzi Zwane as MEC was pursuing the agenda of the Guptas and did not do his job to perform oversight over Mr Thabethe,” added the report.

“It also happened because the premier of the province, Mr Ace Magashule, would have also been pursuing the agenda of the Guptas.”

The main idea behind the Vrede Dairy Project was to introduce black farmers in the Memel and Vrede areas to farming with dairy cows, process their milk and sell milk products on the provincial and national dairy products market.

The farmers were told about the project by Zwane.

However, the promises made to these community members were never realised.

At best, according to the report, a few members of the community were employed at the dairy project as manual workers.

None of the local black dairy farmers were invited to bring their milk for processing at the dairy farm.

The investigation found that the consultancy work on the dairy project appears to have been undertaken by companies from outside South Africa which had some association with the Gupta family enterprises.

It said Estina had R16 in its bank account before the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development gave it a R30-million prepayment for the Vrede project in June 2012.

The prepayment was arranged by Zwane.

At the time, Estina had just one director, Kamal Vasram, a sales manager at the controversial Gupta family’s Sahara Computers.

“The company had no experience whatsoever in farming, never mind milk farming, or the crucial milk processing prior to its appointment. The core business of the company on the date of its appointment was still slated as ‘business consultant’,” said Zondo in the report.

Thabethe did not subject the project to competitive bidding and signed the contract with Estina without doing any due diligence, thereby violating the Public Finance Management Act.

“The Vrede Dairy Project failed in its first two years of operation . . . because of Mr Thabethe’s incompetence or because he was carrying out the agenda of the Guptas and cared less about the taxpayers’ money and the black farmers.

“Apart from anything else, Mr Thabethe must be held both criminally and civilly liable for his role in causing the department to lose so many millions of rands in taxpayers’ money,” Zondo suggested.

He said the Provincial Executive Council (EXCO) should have required Zwane and Thabethe to place before it full documentation which showed that all the legal and relevant prescripts had been complied with and that the implementation of the project and the appointment of Estina would be appropriate and reasonable.

Zondo dismissed the evidence of former treasury MEC Elzabe Rockman that a resolution of the executive council that the provincial agriculture department should implement the dairy project did not imply any breach of the law.

“This is so because the resolution said nothing about complying with the legal prescripts,” he said.

“But also, the EXCO should have preserved giving approval for implementation until satisfied themselves that implementation could still be lawful which they did not do.”

Zondo recommended that law enforcement agencies conduct further investigations to establish if Zwane and Magashule contravened any law in the roles they played in regard to the Vrede Dairy Project.

“The premier should have performed his oversight function over the MEC, Mr Zwane and the head of department Mr Thabethe, but failed dismally,” he said.

“It is necessary that there be consequences for people who fail to do their job . . . otherwise, this corruption and these acts of state capture are going to continue forever to the detriment of the country and all people.

“Neither the Provincial Legislature nor the ANC called the premier to account for the asbestos project and the R1-billion Housing Project debacle.

“Premiers must know they must supervise the MECs and their departments.”

Zondo also suggested that legal proceedings should be put in place in order to recover from Zwane and Magashule some of the monies lost by the provincial agriculture department in the Vrede Dairy Project as a result of their failure to perform their legal obligations.

He also wants members of the Gupta family and their associates involved in the dairy project to be criminally charged. – Staff Reporter

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Masks no longer compulsory as SA drops COVID-19 measures

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PANDEMIC MEASURES REMOVED . . . South Africa has repealed its COVID-19 regulations, including the compulsory wearing of masks

South Africa has dropped the compulsory wearing of masks in indoor settings as well as other measures put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19 following a marked decline in active cases.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla confirmed this during a media briefing in Pretoria on Thursday.

On Wednesday, he published a notice in the Government Gazette repealing the country’s COVID-19 regulations.

The minister also announced that limits on gathering sizes and border checks for COVID-19 also fall way with immediate effect.

According to Phaahla, by mid-June the country recorded a marked drop in new reported cases while the number of hospitalisations also dropped.

The effective reproductive rate of the virus declined to under 0.7 percent and the reported deaths also declined. – Staff Reporter

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