Durban - A Durban High Court judge did not fall for an accused’s apparent delaying tactics in a murder trial on Tuesday, telling the man he had to resolve his differences with his legal counsel by today or defend himself.
Khulekani Zuma, 32, Xolani Memela, 33, and Nqobile Qwabe, 25, are accused of kidnapping a Chinese businessman, Ruiping Guo, and his son, Enmin, who were in the city to buy supplies for their business in oThongathi (Tongaat).
The men are also accused of killing Ruiping Guo, and of robbing him and his son.
After his father’s death, Enmin returned to China. He had to be subpoenaed and flown back to Durban at the State’s expense.
The cost of a single flight ticket was R25 200.
The trial was set down for this week and Enmin was expected to testify, which was vital as he was emigrating to the US and would not be available to return to South Africa.
Judge Philip Nkosi told the defence on Tuesday they were aware this crucial witness was only available to testify during this session and questioned why Memela chose to wait until on Tuesday to fire his lawyer.
Memela’s lawyer Nkanyiso Maphumulo, who is also representing Zuma, told the court he was contacted by Memela’s family that morning and asked to withdraw as they had hired another lawyer.
“They said due to the seriousness of the allegations, they don’t trust me or want my services,” Maphumulo told the court.
Judge Nkosi questioned Memela, who said he was not “satisfied” with Maphumulo’s services in another court matter he had dealt with on his behalf in January.
Zuma and Memela were convicted in the Durban Regional Court in January of murder and were each sentenced to 10 years in jail, three of which were suspended.
Memela could not provide the court with reasons why he was only complaining about this now, instead of at the initial trial date in January or on Monday, when all three appeared and the matter had to be rolled over until on Tuesday as Zuma said he was sick.
“We don’t get along. I’m not happy. My new counsel is in court and I’ve asked him to arrange for an advocate,” Memela said.
Siyabona Mncwabe, Memela’s new lawyer, said the advocate he intended to instruct was available only next month.
“There is no way proceedings will be adjourned because of your client’s last-minute decision. He has caused this on himself,” said Judge Nkosi to Mncwabe.
Prosecutor, Noxolo Dube, told the court there was even a pre-trial conference last week, when Memela did not indicate his unhappiness.
The judge said the concerns Memela raised on Tuesday were “merely to delay proceedings” and found this unreasonable.
“The matter is adjourned until tomorrow (Wednesday) to hear the witness from China,” and if Memela could not proceed with Maphumulo, “he’d have to proceed on his own and conduct his own defence”, said Judge Nkosi.
According to the indictment, on September 27, 2012, Guo and his son were travelling in their Mercedes-Benz panel van when they stopped at the intersection of Ingcunce (Albert) and Charlotte Maxeke (Beatrice) streets and were approached by Zuma and Qwabe.
It is alleged they had got out of a vehicle Memela was driving. The State alleges that Zuma broke the driver’s window with a firearm, tried to get into the panel van and shot Guo when he resisted.
Enmin and Guo were allegedly robbed en route to Molweni cemetery.
Guo later died of a bullet wound he had sustained.