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Like a man being led to the gallows, he howled as five policemen wrestled him into the dock. Clutching a dog-eared Bible, the burly 1.84cm, 95kg former rugby player with soiled trousers sobbed and pleaded: “No, no, I don’t want to appear.”
Attempts to placate him and get him to sit down failed.
The policemen relented and Joseph Ntshongwana – the former Blue Bulls flanker accused of being the serial killer dubbed “the Axeman” – forced his way out of the dock and back down to the cells below.
Outside the Durban Magistrate’s Court, his sister was also in tears, asking relatives of those who her brother allegedly killed to “come together” with her and her family, and deal with the tragedy together.
“We are not rejoicing… everyone is crying,” Luleka Ntshongwana said as the brother of one of the decapitated victims, Zamokuhle Mkhize, punched a bench, asking: “Where is his head?”
It was left to Joseph’s father, Liston Ntshongwana, a former rugby player, government adviser and diplomat in the former Transkei, to explain his son’s case to Durban magistrate Anita Govender and later to keep the peace outside the courtroom.
He told the magistrate that his son – who is facing three charges of murder, one of attempted murder and one of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm – was a schizophrenic who suffered from bipolar disorder.
“He needs to see a private psychiatrist. He needs medication. We believe he is not taking it,” he said.
“His condition deteriorated after the ID parade yesterday. We were told that he had to appear in court today.”
He said (top criminal) attorney Carl van der Merwe had been briefed and would appear next time.
The magistrate remanded Ntshongwana in absentia to Westville Prison hospital where, she told Ntshongwana, his son would be given medication and be seen by a psychiatrist.
Outside, in a frank interview with the media, his father – who was once tipped to manage the Springbok rugby team – gave a fuller picture of Ntshongwana’s mental history, saying he had been admitted to several hospitals, including Valkenberg mental hospital in Cape Town, since being diagnosed two years ago.
“He was released from Valkenberg into the care of his family under supervision and on a regime of medication. He is continuously presented for analysis by his doctors.”
Indicating that mental illness was often not understood by society, he said it had been hard because “we could not understand because of the uniqueness of the condition and its unfamiliarity in our society. We appreciate the interest of the media and members of society, but our priority is his health.”
Challenged by Lamontville community member Madu Shangase as to why the family had kept quiet about his condition, Ntshongwana said he did not want to get into a confrontation “but we are saddened and shocked by what has happened”.
“We had no experience in these matters (mental illness) and our wish is to get the court process going and finalised. We will respect the law.”
Joseph’s sister Luleka Ntshongwana extended the olive branch to friends and family of the alleged victims - and it was accepted by those outside the court room.
“It has happened. It is painful. We have to support him (Joseph). We cannot just abandon him. But we are not rejoicing. My brother doesn’t know what space he is in.
“Let’s try to come together to bring this thing to an end,” she said.
Ntshongwana, who was arrested at his mother’s Yellowwood Park home, will appear in court again on April 14 when a decision is expected to be made as to whether or not he will be sent for mental observation.
*Prosecutor Martin Mtambo asked the magistrate to order that the media not use photographs of Ntshongwana because it could jeopardise an identification parade.
However, the magistrate said while she would not allow cameras in court, she would not interfere with the freedom of the press beyond that. - The Mercury