Hillary Gardee murder trial to start in three months despite legal twists

A file picture of a candlelight vigil held for Hillary Gardee. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

A file picture of a candlelight vigil held for Hillary Gardee. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 17, 2023


Pretoria - The Hillary Gardee murder trial is expected to start in three months’ time, despite legal wrangling that has rendered the matter complicated.

Last week, accused no 2, Philemon Lukhele, was finally granted bail after spending seven months in prison awaiting trial.

Lukhele, 47, is facing charges of kidnapping, rape, and murder, along with three other co-accused.

He previously abandoned his bail bid, but later changed his mind following the arrest of a fourth suspect, Rassie Nkuna, who reportedly confessed that he had killed Gardee on his own.

Lukhele was granted R20 000 bail when he recently appeared in the Nelspruit Magistrate’s Court.

Lukhele’s name has made headlines since his arrest in May last year after Gardee’s body was discovered near a plantation outside Mpumalanga’s capital city, Nelspruit.

He worked as a director in the office of ANC chief whip in the provincial legislature, Fidel Mlombo, before being fired in connection with the murder case.

His ANC membership was also revoked after it was discovered that he had forged South African documents, as he is a citizen of eSwatini.

Hillary’s father, Godrich Gardee, took the police to task after his investigation revealed that Lukhele had access to an illegal telecommunication device while awaiting trial.

This forced the Department of Correctional Services to move Lukhele to a section of the Barberton Maximum Prison facility.

Lukhele’s lawyers revived their bail bid based on police statements that Nkuna had confessed.

This saw the case dragging back and forth due to summonses issued against provincial police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Semakaleng Daphney Manamela, and provincial police spokesperson, Brigadier Selvy Mohlala.

The two top police officers were called to explain statements in the media that suggested the innocence of accused no 1 to three, following revelations of Nkuna’s alleged confession.

The court accepted that it was unfair to keep Lukhele in the Barberton Maximum Prison when there was a possibility that he could be innocent.

Lukhele’s bail conditions include that he not interfere with State witnesses. He was also instructed to surrender his passport and report to the Nelspruit police station every Friday.

Should he wish to travel, he must inform the investigating officer.

Family members who were convinced that Lukhele was guilty have since preferred not to publicly comment, but rather to allow the wheels of justice to keep turning.

The trial is due to start in April in the High Court, marking a year since Gardee went missing.

Pretoria News