Durban - ANC supporters shook their heads in disbelief as five men, believed to be members of the IFP, were acquitted on Tuesday of murder charges relating to an attack on an election victory cavalcade.
IFP members Zwelemphi Gumede, 71, Mphathiseni Gumede, 29, Funinkosi Gumede, 41, Busani Gumede, 21, and Qaphelani Gumede, 33, walked out of the Pietermaritzburg High Court free men, three and a half years after they had been charged with the murder of Zinisele Hlongwane and attempted murder of seven others.
The five were acquitted after applying for a discharge on the basis that there was no evidence against them.
Twelve witnesses were called to testify against the five, but not one of them could identify the five accused as the gunmen.
The State closed its case last week.
Hlongwane was shot dead near Wartburg on April 27, 2009.
ANC supporters were driving in a cavalcade – celebrating the party’s 2009 election victory – when one of the cars ran out of petrol and stalled.
Swayimane had been an IFP stronghold, but this changed after the election, with the ANC winning an overwhelming majority there.
About 100 ANC supporters were present when gunmen opened fire.
Hlongwane, 19, died.
Seven people were wounded.
Acting Judge A Xolo said the defence and the State were in dispute about the identity of the assailants, and the question was whether the accused were the people who perpetrated the crimes on that day.
Judge Xolo said that based on the evidence before him, he agreed with the defence that there was nothing to indicate that the five accused had been responsible for the attack.
“The synopsis of the evidence of all State witnesses is flawed, as none of them can identify the accused as the gunmen,” Judge Xolo said.
“Witnesses agree that the accused were on the scene, but they were not seen in possession of firearms at the time that the shooting took place.”
The judge said the State had not proved its case against the five men.
“The lack of evidence is a fatal flaw,” he said.
Judge Xolo voiced his concern that the murder had occurred in 2009, but the trial had been brought to court last month.
“It is a worrying factor that no one seems to know the cause of this inordinate delay,” the judge said.
Speaking to the Daily News after the verdict, Zwelemphi Gumede said that he was happy to be free and could now focus of his ailing health.
“I am an old man,” Gumede said.
“I knew I was innocent and I am happy the truth is out. This whole thing has caused me and my family much distress and trauma.”
Hlongwane’s cousin, Ayanda Khune, said that she was disgusted at the outcome.
“We are angry. This is not justice. The law has failed my family. God will judge those who killed my cousin,” she said.
Police kept a close eye on proceedings to keep peace between ANC and IFP members who packed the court gallery.