Phindile Ntshongwana appearing in court. File picture: Doctor Ngcobo

Durban - Former Blue Bulls rugby player Joseph Phindile Ntshongwana might have had a reason for attacking the four people he is accused of murdering, the Durban High Court heard on Wednesday.

Specialist psychiatrist Bertram Brayshaw said the panel of psychiatrists who assessed Ntshongwana following his arrest did not know how bad his mental illness was on the days he allegedly killed his victims.

Ntshongwana allegedly used an axe to do so.

Brayshaw was testifying in Ntshongwana's trial. Ntshongwana has denied murdering Thembelenkosini Cebekhulu on March 20, 2011, Paulos Hlongwa two days later, Simon Ngidi the next day and an unidentified man some time that week.

He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of attempted murder, kidnapping and raping a woman in November, 2010, and assault to do bodily harm.

Brayshaw, who diagnosed Ntshongwana with a schizo-affective disorder of the bipolar type, said all the doctors believed Ntshongwana had a severe mental illness.

“The question is that we do not know how bad his condition was on the nights in question as Ntshongwana claims to have no memory, which makes it extremely difficult,” he said.

“No one really knows… what we say is an opinion. We may be wrong. It may be that the accused had some reason for attacking these particular people… an appearance that reminded him of terrible trauma in his life.”

It was conceivable that those killed insulted Ntshongwana and he happened to have an axe in his possession.

From Brayshaw and his colleagues' observations, they could not see a connection between the delusions he had been suffering from, which had not involved physical violence directed towards people.

“In my opinion, he was not so mentally ill at the time that he was unable to appreciate it was wrong to do what he is alleged to have done,” Brayshaw said.

Ntshongwana's lawyer Themba Mjoli asked Brayshaw: “Not even you can say that the time of the alleged offences, that he was in control of his actions?”

Brayshaw replied: “And nobody can say he was not… that's up to the court.”

The court heard that the first time Ntshongwana's mental condition was diagnosed was after he had visions of his late stepfather, and he drove himself to Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban.

Brayshaw said Ntshongwana told him he had been extremely distressed during a church service. He was anxious and could not get his breath and thought he was having an asthma attack.

The State contends Ntshongwana acted like someone who realised the unlawfulness of his actions.

The defence argues the murders were committed as a result of his mental illness.

The trial continues.