By Estelle Ellis

The national co-ordinator of Pagad and three co-accused were acquitted on Wednesay of the murder of Hard Livings gang boss Rashaad Staggie.

Abdus-Salaam Ebrahim, Pagad security chief Salie Abader, a former spiritual leader of Pagad, Abdur-Razaak Ebrahim, and Pagad member Moegsien Mohamed were acquitted of involvement in the public lynching of Staggie in the street outside his Salt River house on August 4 1996.

Abdus-Salaam Ebrahim, Abdur-Razaak Ebrahim and Mohamed were convicted of public violence.

Sentences for this crime range from a fine to imprisonment. Sentencing was expected later on Wednesday.

Abader was acquitted and was expected to be released on Wednesday.

The verdict by Judge John Foxcroft in the Cape High Court was greeted with clapping and cheering by the enormous crowd gathered in the public gallery and spilling into passages and outside the building.

On the day of Staggie's death, after a meeting at the Gatesville mosque, hundreds of Pagad supporters went to his London Road home, a known drug outlet. Pagad members alleged they came under fire from the house. In the ensuing uproar, Staggie arrived, was pulled out of his bakkie, shot, beaten and set on fire.

Unprecedented security measures were in place for the judgment on Wednesday, including about 20 municipal police patrolling Keerom Street in front of the High Court and about 30 police keeping a watchful eye on the crowds.

Scorpions prosecutors and investigators from the urban terrorism unit all gathered in Courtroom One to hear the judgment.

Judge Foxcroft said that according to the post mortem report, Staggie was not killed by the first shot fired at him when he was pulled out of his vehicle. Nor did he die when a firebomb was thrown at him as ambulance personnel tried to rescue him.

Staggie had been killed by unknown people who fired several shots at him while he was lying in the gutter, severely injured.

The judge said it was not possible for him to find beyond a reasonable doubt that either Abdus-Salaam Ebrahim, Abader or Mohamed were part of this group, or desired or foresaw that Staggie would be killed.

He found that Abdur-Razaak Ebrahim was in no way connected to the killing.

Videotape of the incident screened in court did not show the source of the fatal shots.

Judge Foxcroft did find that Abdus-Salaam Ebrahim, Abdur-Razaak Ebrahim and Mohamed had been part of a volatile group that marched to Staggie's home, and should have foreseen that violence could break out.

Earlier, State advocates Jannie van Vuuren and Piet Steyn asked the court to convict all four men of murder. They conceded they had not proven a case of public violence against Abader, but asked that the other three be convicted of that charge.

They did not call for convictions of attempted murder, saying this was incorporated in the public violence charge.