Pretoria - Four of the eight former police officers guilty of murdering Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia received a lifeline from the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein, which granted them leave to appeal against the murder convictions.
It was third time lucky for former officers Meshack Malele, Sipho Ngobeni, Bongani Kolisi and Linda Sololo, who have been in jail since August 2015, when they were sentenced to 15 years' each.
Gauteng High Court Judge Bert Bam, who convicted them on the doctrine of common purpose, turned down their initial application for leave to appeal. They turned to the SCA directly, where two judges also refused them permission to appeal.
But former SCA president Lex Mpati said in his view there was a reasonable prospect that the four former police officers could succeed with their application on appeal. He then instructed that the matter be decided by six SCA Judges.
Judge Mahomed Navsa concurred with his five judicial brothers - all five had some "misgivings" regarding the murder conviction on the doctrine of common purpose.
They instructed that a full Bench (three judges) in Pretoria had to reconsider the matter.
Former Daveyton police officers Bongamusa Mdluli, Thamsanqa Ngema, Percy Mnisi and Lungisa Gwababa were convicted with the four appellants. Some of them had earlier obtained leave to appeal against their convictions.
The appeals are all expected to be heard sometime this year.
They were all dismissed from the SAPS after a disciplinary hearing.
They were linked to the events on February 26, 2013, when Macia was dragged behind a police van, after a video made by one of the bystanders went viral.
Macia had been arrested near a taxi rank in Daveyton by police officers from that precinct after he illegally parked his taxi and caused a traffic jam.
During his arrest, handcuffs were placed on him, which were attached to a steel bench in the back of the police van. The vehicle drove off after the police claimed they feared a threatening crowd which had gathered on the scene.
The vehicle drove off with Macia still attached to a bench in the back of the police vehicle, with part of his lower body on the ground behind it. Macia was dragged behind the vehicle for about 200m en route to Daveyton police station.
Upon his arrival at the police station he was unconscious, and placed in a holding cell. He died a few hours later. It was found that he was further assaulted while in the holding cells by some of the police officers.
The officers all denied they had assaulted Macia or were involved in his being dragged behind the police van. Some said they tried to assist him, while others said they did not even know he was behind the vehicle.
Another policeman who allegedly saw the group huddled around Macia in the police cells when he was assaulted said he could not see who was assaulting him.
But in convicting the officers, Judge Bam at the time said they should have foreseen that Macia could have died, yet they did nothing to help him.
He also found that Macia was severely assaulted in the police cells and that they were all present.
The judge rejected the evidence of the accused that they were not aware he was being dragged behind the van.
Their evidence that he must have injured himself later in the cell, resulting in him dying in a pool of blood, was also rejected by the judge.
Judge Mpati remarked that he had "grave doubts" about the finding of common purpose. His six judicial brothers shared this sentiment in their own judgment.
Judge Navsa said while there were good prospects that the verdict of murder could be overturned on appeal, he said it was up to the high court to decide whether they might be guilty of other, lesser offences.