datJohannesburg - Missing court records. A king impoverished by court battles. A jail sentence but no jail time. Legal infighting. Hints of favouritism. Years of delays.
Now 17 years after a man who displeased his king died, the culpable homicide conviction against King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo should soon be back before court.
Last week, the Mthatha High Court ordered the court’s registrar and director of public prosecutions (DPP) to prepare the court record needed for the king’s appeal against his 2009 conviction, and gave them 60 days to submit it to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
“The delay is not on the king’s side. There is no partisanship or favouritism here,” said Zehir Omar, the king’s lawyer, who brought the application.
“The king is as eager as everyone else to have this matter finalised.”
Officials all denied wrongdoing, but there were conflicting explanations for the delay in getting the appeal under way.
It’s a case that started nearly two decades ago.
In 1995 and 1996, a nasty series of events took place on the king’s farm, Tyalara, near Mthatha in the Eastern Cape.
Nocingile Sonteya and her six children were kidnapped; homes of three families were burnt down; three young men were badly assaulted; Saziso Wofa was killed, and attempts were made to cover up Wofa’s death or its cause.
The victims were the king’s subjects, targeted because they angered him for reasons ranging from failing to pay a fine to being accused of violent crimes.
In 2004, the case against the king finally got to court and in 2009 he was convicted of 10 charges, including culpable homicide, arson and kidnapping, and sentenced to an effective 15 years in jail.
He has been out on bail pending an appeal ever since.
This week, The Star pieced together the explanations for the delayed appeal.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) gave two reasons for the delay - firstly, that the king had brought an unsuccessful application for review of his conviction and, secondly, that the court record of the criminal case went missing.
The review started in 2010 and was dismissed in May last year.
“The court record disappeared,” said NPA spokesman in Mthatha, Luxolo Tyali.
The record wasn’t needed for the review, but was crucial for the appeal.
Tyali said the record disappeared somewhere between Mthatha and Bloemfontein (where the Supreme Court of Appeal is based), but couldn’t say where or how.
He said the record was being compiled.
“We are as much interested in this case as the public,” he said.
The Department of Justice said the transcription had been found “and it is now with the DPP’s office for checking of correctness”.
In the king’s application last week to get the court record, he said his previous attorney was “not co-operating” with his advocate, thus causing him “far-reaching prejudice” by delaying the matter, and that he was too “financially strapped” after the lengthy case to pay to compile the court record as this would cost about R150 000.
The court ordered the registrar to get it done.
Omar is confident of winning the matter on appeal.
He said the basis of the appeal was that the trial had started with a judge and two assessors, but when one of the assessors died, the case simply continued regardless instead of being restarted.
“There was a huge irregularity, because the court as originally constituted was not the same court that convicted the accused,” said Omar.