Durban - Murder charges will be dropped against a Swazi national whose lorry ploughed through a busy Durban intersection last year, killing 24 people, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
“The charges are no longer murder. The (Directorate of Public Prosecutions) have advised us today that they are changing the charges to culpable homicide,” Lindokuhle Mdletshe told reporters.
Earlier the driver, Sanele Goodness May, made a brief appearance in the Pinetown Magistrate's Court by video link from Durban's Westville Prison.
Mdletshe was speaking outside the court after he advised the court that he had new reasons for bringing a fresh bail application.
“(The dropping of the murder charges) was one of the reasons for us bringing a new bail application.”
He did not elaborate on the other reasons and these were not raised in court.
Mdletshe, who flashed a copy of his letter from the DPP outside court, said although he had been advised that the 24 charges of murder would be dropped, it would probably only happen formally once the indictment was served.
The case against May was adjourned to March 28 to allow for the indictment to be served and for police to investigate new information pertaining to the fresh bail application.
Magistrate Gwendolyn Robinson denied him bail last year, ruling he was a flight risk. Robinson said he was in the country illegally and for her to grant him bail the court would be required to legalise his residency status while he was awaiting trial. The courts did not have such authority.
On the evening of September 5, at the height of rush hour traffic, May's truck ploughed into four minibus taxis and two cars at an intersection at the bottom of Fields Hill in Pinetown. Twenty-two people were killed at the scene. Two died in hospital later.
At the time of his bail hearing, defence lawyer Louis Barnard told the court that the murder charges would not stand, citing the Jacob Humphreys case. The Western Cape taxi driver was charged with 10 counts of murder after jumping a queue of cars waiting at a level crossing in August 2010.
A train struck his taxi, killing 10 of the children he was driving to school.
He was convicted of murder, but the Supreme Court of Appeal set aside the charges in March and replaced them with 10 counts of culpable homicide. It reduced his 20-year sentence to eight years.
Barnard told Robinson in October the court would have to find that May was suicidal on the night of the accident.
The KwaZulu-Natal National Prosecuting Authority spokeswoman Natasha Ramkisson-Kara confirmed the charges would be changed to culpable homicide, but referred queries for the reasons behind the decision to the national spokesman Nathi Mncube.
He could not immediately be reached.