The state is keeping mum on whether or not former health minister Zweli Mkhize is being investigated as a suspect in whistleblower Babita Deokaran’s murder.
The bail application of the six men arrested for the crime got into its second day in the Johannesburg Regional Court on Friday, when the defence revealed it had been in contact with Mkhize’s legal team.
This after it emerged earlier in the week that one of the alleged killers had fingered Mkhize as the mastermind behind Deokaran’s death, in a since-disputed confession he now claims he was tortured and forced to make.
“They want to communicate with us and we would obviously – if at all possible – like to obtain a statement from Dr Mkhize,” the accused’s advocate, Peter Wilkins, told the court – adding it could have a “huge impact” on the case and put to bed, once and for all, the issue of the veracity of the confession.
He asked, however, for an indication from the state as to whether Mkhize was indeed a suspect – explaining that if he was that the defence was barred from engaging with him.
State advocate Steven Rubin refused to confirm this one way or the other, but indicated there existed at least the potential that he was a state witness or suspect and that the defence could, as a result, not have any communication with him.
The investigating officer, meanwhile, has expressed concern that if the alleged killers are released on bail, they too could end up dead.
During Friday’s proceedings, Rubin read into the record an affidavit opposing bail from the Johannesburg Central Serious Organised Crime Unit’s Captain Masenxani Percy Chauke.
While he did not identify any outstanding suspects by name – saying he was not in a position to do so while the investigations into their potential involvement were still ongoing – Chauke did in the affidavit highlight the investigation was at “a very sensitive stage”.
“And there is already a significant amount of evidence that shows that the murder was politically motivated,” he said.
He further said the “kingpins, paymasters, and integral roleplayers” were still at large – adding that:
“Should the applicants be released on bail, there is a real probability that the persons behind the instruction to murder the deceased will execute a similar order on the applicants in order to avoid their being brought to justice.”
Deokaran was gunned down outside her home in Mondeor, south Johannesburg, in August, in what appears to have been a hit. Nothing was stolen and Deokaran, a high-ranking official with the Gauteng department of health, was a witness in various graft probes.
According to media reports, she had also received threatening messages in the run-up to her death.
The accused before court – Phakamani Hadebe, Zitha Radebe, Nhlangano Ndlovu, Siphakanyiswa Dladla, Simphiwe Mazibuko and Sanele Mbhele – face charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. They also face a charge of attempted murder relating to Deokaran’s domestic helper, who was with her at the time of the shooting. They have all denied any involvement.
In his affidavit, though, Chauke pointed to images of Deokaran’s home that were found on one of the accused’s phone; as well as to video footage of vehicles to which the accused have been linked in the vicinity of her home at the time she was killed.
He has also denied any of the accused were tortured or coerced.
The case is due back in court later this month for arguments.