UK duo's illegal cross-border caper still a mystery, donate R15K each to SA fund
Durban – It is not known why two British citizens decided to ignore authorities and drive illegally into South Africa via the Eswatini (Swaziland) border post last month, but they did admit their actions were wrongful.
James Hackett, 41, and Erkan Bali, 38, pleaded guilty to related charges of obstructing the administration of justice and contravening the Immigration Act during their appearance at the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Friday.
As an expression of remorse for their “blatant disregard” for the rule of law, especially at a time when the country was in lockdown due to the Covid-19 virus, they each donated R15 000 to the government’s Solidarity Fund, which is being used to combat the global pandemic.
They were due for a bail hearing the day before, but the matter was rolled over after their legal representatives engaged the State on a plea settlement.
The plea matter came before Magistrate Anand Maharaj and prosecutor Ronitha Singh represented the State.
Each accused was handed a fine of R40 000 or 12 months' imprisonment, suspended for five years, on condition they did not repeat the offence during the suspension period.
They also received a R10 000 fine or three months' imprisonment for contravening the Immigration Act. The sentence was suspended for five years, provided they did not commit a similar crime in that time.
Hackett and Bali will be held at the Westville Prison until their deportation to the UK is completed.
Both men entered the country separately on a visitor’s visa from Swaziland in February but left together on March 18.
Together, they attempted to re- enter via the same Golela border crossing on April 11, but were turned away.
They complied with the instruction, but attempted another crossing a short while later.
However, on that occasion, once on the South African side of the border, instead of stopping to present the relevant documents to border patrol officials, they dashed through the checkpoint.
The pair, who were travelling in a hired VW Tiguan at the time, were able to evade police, and reached Durban more than three hours later.
But members of the SAPS and Tracker Connect traced the foreigners to a guest house in Umbilo.
The owner of the guest house was also arrested for violating the Disaster Management Act because it was prohibited to have guests by the lockdown rules that were in effect.
His matter is expected in court during July. The investigating team is led by Warrant Officer Sunil Sukdeo of the KZN Provincial Investigation Unit.
On Friday, Singh expounded on the serious nature of offences committed by Hackett and Bali and highlighted that they were coming from a “high-risk” country at a time when South Africa was in a State of Disaster due to Covid-19.
Their pair’s actions caused a cross-provincial search, resulting in expenditure of human and financial resources of the government and the private sector.
In addition, they showed a blatant disregard for the safety and bodily integrity of South African citizens when they failed to report to a medical practitioner so that the necessary Covid-19 procedures could be administered, said Singh.
In mitigation, advocate Niren Rai reinforced that his clients were remorseful, did not waste the court’s time and, “as a form of good faith” they each paid R15 000 into the Solidarity Fund.
Both men told the Sunday Tribune afterwards that they were happy with the court outcome but were not prepared to speak on why they entered South Africa illegally.
Bali said: “I can’t wait to get back home.”
Hackett said he planned to return to South Africa after he was deported so that he could be with his girlfriend, who lives in Durban and pregnant with their child.
“I’m not banned from the country. I plan to come back to be with my girlfriend. I’m grateful to her and our legal team (from Roy Singh Attorneys) for their support and assistance.”
Hackett said they regretted their actions. “We are remorseful, and we apologise to the people of South Africa. The donation is an expression of our remorse,” he said.
Elaine Zungu, KwaZulu-Natal’s director of public prosecutions, applauded the efforts of the prosecution team and members of the SAPS for their prompt finalisation of the matter.
“We view matters of this nature in a serious light and will deal with them accordingly.”