Fears that the trial of the man who killed Pietermaritzburg socialite Kavitha Nerputh may collapse were allayed on Tuesday with news that the key witnesses had been located.
The alleged murderer, Simphiwe Mweli (37), a vagrant who is in custody, appeared in the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court on Tuesday for trial. He abandoned his bail application last year following his arrest in February.
Nerputh’s body was found in her Audi Q7 in Alexandra Park on January 20. She had been strangled with a cellphone cable.
While the trial could not proceed on Tuesday because Mweli’s legal aid attorney was sick, magistrate Bhekizitha Phoswa was told that witnesses had been located. Two were even present in court.
The main witnesses in the case are vagrants. In March last year when the country entered a nationwide lockdown, vagrants around the city were rounded up and accommodated in Mayors Walk, Prestbury.
As the months passed by, some left the facility. The investigating officer has had a tough time locating them and worked hard to track them down.
On Tuesday, prosecutor Phumlani Ntshangase told Phoswa that the state intends calling six witnesses to prove its case that Mweli killed Nerputh.
Besides the two vagrants present in court, he said another one will be available on Thursday, which means he can come to court. The fourth vagrant witness is still problematic to find. However, the investigating officer knows where to look for him, Ntshangase said. The other two witnesses are contactable, he added.
Phoswa thanked the witnesses present in court for coming to court. He instructed them to arrive at 8.30 am on Wednesday.
As the two vagrants were about to leave the courtroom, Mweli interrupted and said he wanted to say something. He then told the magistrate that the investigating officer “fed” the witnesses with information against him.
The magistrate reminded him that he faces a very serious charge and if convicted he will go to jail. The magistrate also said the court will decide the case.
Mweli was arrested by police acting on information that indicated he was the last person seen with Nerputh. He was arrested at a vacant house in town.
Nerputh was the owner of Foreverwell Tea, a herbal weight-loss tea company in Camps Drift.
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She hit headlines in 2019 when she obtained a harassment order against a former friend of hers for cyber bullying. Nerputh was known for turning to the courts and police to lay harassment complaints.
The motive for her killing has not been disclosed in court.
Usually during bail applications, details of a case emerge and the state indicates how an accused is linked to a crime and the strength of its case.
However, since Mweli had abandoned his bail application, details of the state’s case were not disclosed in court.
The prosecutor told the court during Mweli’s first few court appearances that he had no known street address.
The house he lived in was a derelict building opposite public works in Prince Alfred Street which was known to house vagrants and drug users.