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Teffo court arrest undermines confidence in SAPS

Police arrested Advocate Malesela Teffo, legal representative of accused 1 to 4 in the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial on April 28 at the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria. Picture: Goitsemang Tlhabye/Pretoria News

Police arrested Advocate Malesela Teffo, legal representative of accused 1 to 4 in the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial on April 28 at the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria. Picture: Goitsemang Tlhabye/Pretoria News

Published May 7, 2022


By Zelna Jansen

Malesela Teffo is the advocate representing four of the five accused in the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial. Teffo was arrested on April 28.

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As background, Senzo Meyiwa was a player for Orlando Pirates. He also represented the national team in several matches and captained Bafana in some of the matches in the African Nations Cup. Meyiwa was murdered in October 2014. At the time, it was believed to be a robbery gone wrong at the home of his girlfriend, Kelly Khumalo. It was reported that Meyiwa was shot while protecting Khumalo from the attackers. The attackers fled the scene with Khumalo’s cellphone. A suspect was arrested but released as there was no evidence connecting him to the crime. There were several rumours of a cover-up by the people in the house.

However, the case remained unsolved and became a cold case until 2019. Many were also critical of how the police investigated this case. In 2020, authorities believed that Meyiwa was the victim of a hit and not, as initially believed, a robbery gone wrong. A murder weapon was found in a locker room at the police station. Theories of a mastermind surfaced. Five men were arrested.

Teffo claims he had a watching brief for the Meyiwa family, and on taking this brief, he had been threatened by police not to become involved in the matter. Teffo is also of the view that Police Minister Bheki Cele, in 2019, held a meeting with the staff investigating the late Meyiwa’s case. As there had been no progress, Cele removed these officials and appointed new investigation officers.

Teffo further claims that Cele met with Meyiwa’s mother and indicated that Khumalo was the mastermind behind Meyiwa’s murder. Teffo has further alleged police interference by Cele and the former national police commissioner, Khehla Sitole. With all this in the background, the murder trial started in April. Teffo’s cross-examination of the state’s first witness was aimed at leading the witness to an admission that there might have been tampering with the murder scene. The witness made some admissions.

On April 28, as the trial concluded for the day, Teffo was arrested. This was done by an arresting officer who was accompanied by armed police officers. Teffo has since been released on R10 000 bail. The question on everyone’s mind is whether it was appropriate for the police to arrest Teffo in court. Particularly in the presence of the media.

Also, the warrant was issued in January 2022, when Teffo did not appear in a matter where he was accused of trespassing. Teffo has been critical of how police have been managing the murder trial and has accused the SAPS of cover-ups and interference. Was this a “tit for tat” scenario? The impression was created that the arrest was to humiliate Teffo. The arresting officer did not read Teffo his rights or state why he was arresting Teffo. When questioned by the media, the arresting officer stated that they could take the matter up in court.

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This is unfortunate because it creates more sensation around the murder case that has taken almost eight years to get to trial. The General Council of the Bar and the Pan African Bar Association of South Africa have called for an investigation into the matter of how Teffo was arrested.

The Chief Justice, Raymond Zondo, also released a media statement saying that the police could have waited until Teffo was out of the court. The Chief Justice also questioned how Teffo was arrested. The SAPS may claim the arrest was not made to humiliate Teffo.

If so, then one must ask: Why did the police not think through the scenario of arresting Teffo in court? Did the arresting officer not consider reporting this arrest to his supervisor to obtain guidance, given that the trial is being broadcast live on television? Does the SAPS not have a communications or public relations person that could have thought through the various scenarios and taken the best way forward? For example, how does the public view the SAPS? What perception will be created? How will the judiciary or attorneys respond? At least inform the head of the Gauteng High Court?

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The judiciary has been severely criticised by many politicians for the stance it takes in certain cases. This makes the judiciary extremely sensitive. Teffo is an officer of the court, and arresting him in the way it was done, shows disrespect towards the judiciary. How would it impact the Meyiwa family sitting in court?

When asked about the matter in a televised interview, Cele said he was waiting on a report and, therefore, could not respond. What does this say about how the SAPS works and thinks strategically?

The SAPS is out of touch with the people it is serving, and this incident will only add to the already low or even lack of confidence the public has in the SAPS. It will now also add fuel to the allegation that the SAPS is covering up something.

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I am sure the Meyiwa family is hoping and praying that this incident does not delay the murder trial and that the truth will be revealed as the trial unfolds.

* Jansen is a lawyer and CEO of Zelna Jansen Consultancy