The charges against the two students who were arrested on allegations of being in possession of an unlicensed rifle, have been withdrawn – for now, at least.
The pair were due to appear in the Johannesburg Regional Court on Friday morning but in the end, their case was not placed on the roll and the charges against them were provisionally withdrawn pending the results of ballistic testing on the rifle in question.
It’s now believed that the rifle – an Israeli-made Galil – had in fact been permanently deactivated by welding the barrel closed and that it was being used as a prop in an art studio.
The students’ lawyer, Phathutshedzo Thebela, said on Friday afternoon that the pending ballistic testing would include tests and examinations geared towards satisfying the authorities that this was indeed the case.
He confirmed his clients were now free but said they were “traumatised” following their detention and needed some “space”.
The 24-year old man and 21-year-old woman were arrested on Wednesday during an Artist In Revolution commemoration for Mthokozisi Ntumba, the 35-year-old father of four who was shot dead during the student protests in Braamfontein, Johannesburg last week.
Ntumba was leaving his doctor’s rooms last Wednesday when, it appears, he became caught in the crossfire of a clash between police and students. Widely circulated footage of the incident paints the former in a damning light, at least preliminarily, and shows the police firing rubber ammunition at what looks to be lethal close range at him.
His death sent shockwaves through the country and prompted widespread outrage.
Police spokeswoman Brigadier Mathapelo Peters said this week that a Crime Intelligence report about a dangerous weapon was operationalised and led police to a gathering in Braamfontein where students were in attendance.
“It is at this gathering where members observed two students in Stiemens Street carrying an automatic rifle,” she said.
“The officers kept close watch and saw the pair drive off in a vehicle. The car was followed and ultimately stopped by the Johannesburg Flying Squad and the Tactical Response Team in Auckland Park.”
Earlier in the day, controversial visual artist Ayanda Mabulu was seen carrying the same rifle and even hoisting it in the air.
Peters said this week that when the police had stopped the students, they had also found them in possession of a loaded magazine. However, doubts have since been cast on the veracity of this information too.