Johannesburg - She may have been convicted of murdering her husband and forging his will, but Thandi Maqubela won’t give up on claiming more than R6 million from her dead spouse’s multi-million-rand estate without a fight.
On Wednesday, Thandi launched her first step in her legal bid when her lawyers filed a court application to claim more than half from the life insurance payout of her husband, Judge Patrick Maqubela.
However, a criminal-law expert has highlighted some legal hurdles that may result in Thandi being disqualified from her husband’s estate.
According to the expert, Dr James Grant, the general principle surrounding inheritance through crime in South Africa is based on an extract of Roman Dutch law: “The bloody hand cannot inherit.”
But while this principle would normally disqualify someone like Thandi claiming from the estate, her current legal bid might not be entirely without merit.
“In cases like this, depending on how her claim is framed, she may avoid the principle that would otherwise disqualify her from inheritance,” Grant said.
If, for instance, her claim is based on matrimonial law, and she claims she was married in community of property, she could argue that the proceeds of the life insurance policy is half hers because she owns half of the matrimonial estate,” he said.
The acting high court judge was found dead in his Bantry Bay, Cape Town, flat in 2009 just days after reportedly telling then justice minister Jeff Radebe that he planned to divorce his wife.
While the cause of death was never confirmed, the State’s assertion was that he may have been suffocated with a piece of cling film found in the same room.
Thandi was convicted in November 2013, but spent more than a year in appeal and sentencing processes. She was eventually sentenced to 18 years in prison in March.
Fifteen years were for the murder and three years each (running concurrent) for forging her husband’s will to exclude his children from the inheritance and including her own child from another marriage.
Court documents presented to the high court in Joburg on Wednesday showed Judge Maqubela’s life insurance payout was R20m, and after the estate’s debts and other expenses had been settled, more than R11m was still to be distributed.
In the documents, which The Star has seen, Thandi argues that she is entitled to almost R6m of her husband’s estate, as per her previous applications to the executor of the will. She argues that she is entitled to two payouts of R5 999 957 and R77 599 as she was still a part of their joint matrimonial estate.
She also objects to the awarding of about R3.3m to one of Judge Maqubela’s children, Patiwe Singapi, who she claimed wasn’t related to her husband.
Last year, the State made an application to restrain Thandi from benefiting from the life insurance policy, as the money was considered to be the proceeds of a crime. This application was granted by the Western Cape High Court in July last year.
Thandi was initially excluded by the executor of the will and master of the high court in Joburg in their first draft of the liquidation and distribution accounts.
After she filed a legal complaint, she was listed on a later draft of the will, and it appeared she was set to be awarded the above amounts.
In July, another version of the accounts paperwork was presented, once again excluding Thandi from the estate. And while she has spent the past three months fighting this exclusion, the executor and master of the court overruled her lawyers’ arguments.
The executor initially pointed out that she was disqualified because of her role in her husband’s death. But she objected, claiming the policy was one of the couple’s joint assets. The most recent decision to overrule her arguments was provided on September 7.
On Wednesday, Thandi’s attorney, Jolinda Slager, said they had launched an application for a 30-day extension for another application to overturn the master of the court’s decision.
This, she said, was because they originally had only 30 days from September 7 to do so.
Judge Thami Makhanya granted the extension, after Thandi’s advocate, Pieter Venter, argued his team had received the reasons for the master’s ruling only on Friday.