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Pietermaritzburg - The chief receptionist of a local prison appeared in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Friday for contempt of court, after she failed to appear to explain the reason for the late arrival of prisoners.

Judge Themba Sishi issued an order for Captain Nompumelelo Hadebe to appear after State advocate Dorian Paver lodged a complaint against her on Wednesday.

Paver said Hadebe was told that she had to appear in court on Thursday to explain the reason for the delays.

She did not appear, and Sishi subsequently issued a warrant for her arrest.

Hadebe told the court on Friday that she attended a wellness event on Thursday, and had observed protocol by reporting the order to attend the event to her senior.

Paver told her that appearing in court was more important than following her department's protocol and attending a wellness event.

“You are lucky a police officer was not sent to arrest you and that you 1/8were not 3/8 kept in a police cell overnight,” he said.

Hadebe said she heard about the warrant from a friend only at 1pm on Thursday.

Paver said she could have the issue dropped if she apologised to Sishi.

Hadebe said she had not intended to slight the judge.

The matter was expected to continue on Monday.

Paver previously said several judges and magistrates had complained that prisoners were continuously brought late to court.

Constable Philani Zondis, who drove prisoners to and from the courts, said he was often unable to deliver them at the right times because of delays at the prison reception area.

In the case being heard by Sishi, four defence attorneys - all paid for by the State - the judge and court officials had to wait each day for four prisoners to be transported from the prison.

The lost time in the case amounted to a full court day.

The four were brought to court early on Thursday.

“Because we kicked up a fuss about the late arrivals yesterday 1/8Wednesday 3/8, miraculously the four accused were at court by 9.20am today, because the captain at the regional court went to the prison to fetch them early,” Paver told the court.

The four are accused of shooting dead a manager during a bank robbery.

They also face five charges of unlawful possession of firearms, one of possession of a gun with the serial number removed, one of unlawful possession of a fully automatic firearm, and a charge of the attempted murder of seven people.

The incident took place at a bank in Hluhluwe in May 2011.

The four, Innocent Nkanana, Xolani Zinga, Sifiso Ncube and Thokozani Dlamini have pleaded not guilty.

Their trial will continue when the inquiry into the late arrivals has been concluded. - Sapa