The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) altered its charges against Lazarus Malatjie, 42, after his blood tests for alcohol came back positive late last month.
After his arrest in September last year, Malatjie was slapped with culpable homicide charges. The car he was driving hit five youngsters who were changing a burst tyre along the Nasrec Road off-ramp.
Ndiphiwe Oliphant, Lebogang Tsotetsi, Kenneth Xaba and Sandile Tshabalala died. The youths, from the same neighbourhood in Mofolo South, Soweto, were all tertiary students aged under 25.
A friend of theirs survived, hence the single charge of attempted murder against Malatjie.
The Star saw Malatjie’s new charge sheet at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court yesterday, where he appeared for his case.
Malatjie is now facing four charges of murder, one of attempted murder, one of drunk driving and another of malicious damage to property.
The NPA invoked the dolus eventualis principle after the laboratory proved his blood-alcohol level during the incident was 0.30.
Yesterday, prosecutor Vincent Nzuke asked for a postponement of the case to May 7 for a decision on the trial date. The request was granted.
Malatjie, who is out on bail, cut a lone figure in the dock. He has told the State he is a driver by profession.
"NPA hasn't failed us"
Sarah Oliphant, Ndiphiwe’s mother, welcomed the NPA’s decision to change the charges.
“We’d have been very hurt if the charges were not murder while he was drunk. For me, it’s a consolation that the NPA hasn’t failed us,” she said. “Police who were at the scene also did the right thing by conducting blood tests (on the accused), as we know that a breathalyser doesn’t hold water in court.
“The results also came back in a reasonable time. Initially, they were telling us it takes about six years for results to come back due to a backlog.
“But they came back in less than six months. The prosecutor (Nzuke) often called the laboratory to enquire how far the process was,” Oliphant said.
She added that it would take her many years to recover from the heartache of losing her child.
“Ndiphiwe was my only son. I’m 47 years old. Whether I’ll ever have another child or not is a discussion for another day, but we end up here (in court) because someone had irresponsible fun.
“There’s no parent who wants to bury their child. It leaves a lingering feeling. We’ll forgive him, but justice must still prevail.”
Thoko Tshabalala, Sandile’s mother, lamented drunk driving.
“People should know it’s wrong to drive when drunk,” she said.
“They ought to know that anything can happen if they drive drunk, as has happened here.”
Sandile left a two-year-old child, his mother said.
“I’m hurt because he was still going to provide for his child and for me. We’re all hurt in the family and community. We know that death happens, but the way they died hurts us so deeply.”