When Marcus Nndateni Mulaudzi (43) was arrested by the police on 26 February 2006, he initially thought it was part of a surrealistic experience. “I thought it was a joke and I didn’t even apply for bail (straight away), because I thought the judge will release me.” More than a decade later he was still waiting in jail, fighting to prove his innocence.
On 5 May this year the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein issued an order, setting aside Mulaudzi’s conviction and related sentence on a charge of murder. The three judges, Theron, Petse and Willis, reached the unanimous conclusion that Mulaudzi had been wrongfully convicted of murder. The order was delivered last Friday (20th) and after more than 10 years in jail, Mulaudzi was free to continue with his life.
The sad episode in Mulaudzi’s life started in July 2005 when a well-known school principal and councillor, Mr Shavhani Ramusetheli (56), was gunned down at this house at Tshavhalovhedzi near the Siloam hospital. According to an early police report, Mr Ramusetheli arrived home after work and parked his car in the garage. A few minutes later he was attacked by two men while closing the garage door. They hit him with a sharp object on the head and then shot him. He died instantly.
When the deceased’s mother went out to investigate the cause of the noise in the garage, she was hit in the face and she sustained minor injuries. The suspects then fled on foot.
Initially the police arrested two suspects, but they were released after being questioned. Following more investigations, four suspects were arrested and the case eventually made its way to the Thohoyandou High Court. On 22 August 2006, Mulaudzi, along with Tshimangadzo Leroy Mushweu, Piet Mudzugu and Samuel Ntshaveni Ndwambi, was convicted of murder and robbery. Mulaudzi was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder and 10 years’ imprisonment in respect of the robbery.
Mulaudzi subsequently applied for leave to appeal, but this application was refused by Judge Hetisani. The long process of taking his case directly to the Supreme Court of Appeal then started.
In his judgment, Judge X M Petse found that the High Court had erred by relying too much on the evidence of the first accused, Mushweu. Mushweu implicated Mulaudzi in the murder, but apart from this testimony, very little evidence points to his involvement. The court found that Mushweu was untruthful in his evidence and tried to exculpate himself. “But it (High Court) then proceeded to uncritically accept his (Mushweu’s) evidence that incriminated the appellant,” Judge Petze said.
Judge Petze also rejected the High Court’s dismissal of Mulaudzi’s evidence. “In my view, there is nothing inherently improbable about the appellant’s version to warrant its rejection as false beyond reasonable doubt,” the judge said.
The Supreme Court of Appeal’s ruling was wonderful news for Mulaudzi, who had been a resident at the Sinthumule/Kutama maximum security prison for the past ten years. For the first time he could speak freely about the ordeal that robbed him of such a big part of his life.
“During our trial, the Thohoyandou High Court discarded the second accused, Piet Mudzugu’s testimony that I was not involved. An eyewitness, Ramusetheli’s mother, also testified in court that she (only) saw two people, but the court continued sentencing me,” he said.
“I don’t know why Mushweu mentioned my name as one of the suspects, because I don’t even know the deceased, Shavhani Ramusetheli’s home,” he said. According to Mulaudzi, he only met Mushweu twice before the incident at Shayandima when he was visiting his girlfriend. “I was just a mere taxi driver doing routine rides between Thohoyandou and Shayandima,” he said.
According to Mulaudzi, the incident ruined his life and his relationship with his wife and family members. “I was 32 years old when it happened and my wife left with my son because of my arrest. My other son stopped attending school,” he said. “I lost everything and now have to start afresh.”
Mulaudzi said life in prison had been very stressful. He said it was especially traumatic when he made eye contact with Mushweu in prison and he often found himself crying in the cells. “I was afraid that some inmates would kill me, because no one likes a murderer. I have learnt the hard way that one can die for something you did not do,” he said.
Mulaudzi’s brother believed in his innocence and helped him to lodge an appeal to the Supreme Court in Bloemfontein. “I couldn’t believe it when I stepped out of jail. My family is happy also. My mother, Joyce Mulaudzi, was ill because of my arrest,” he said.
“When I was in jail, I was trained in motor mechanics, bricklaying and woodwork. I will decide whether to work as a motor mechanic or other trades,” he said.
Mulaudzi mentioned that much has changed in the world since the prison doors slammed shut behind him almost 11 years ago. “During my arrest, there were only three malls in Thohoyandou, namely Mvusuludzo, Mutsindo and Venda Plaza. They built the Phangami Mall while I was in prison. Stadiums were built for the 2010 World Cup while I was locked up in jail,” he added. “The worst part is that I don’t know how to use social network sites. What I know is how to send ‘Please call me’ messages only.”
In spite of everything, Mulaudzi has not lost all hope. “The Lord has been with me since my tribulations started and I am happy that He has delivered me from the jaws of evil. I will never stop praising Him because He has saved me. I never had and will never take part in destroying life, because I know that it is a wonderful gift from God,” he said.
Mulaudzi was represented by Adv MJ Mpshe (SC) in the case and the attorneys were Mvundlela & Associates from Thohoyandou.