‘I’ve been to hell and back, and now I’m free’
Traumatised through a two-year trial, she plans to sue prosecuting authority
“I have been through hell and back, but now I am happy and sleeping peacefully.”
This is how Bulelwa Ndudula described “the passing of this dark chapter in my life” – the two years the East London primary school teacher spent in in the dock combating the accusation she shot her husband four times in cold blood.
She was found not guilty of murdering her husband Sakhekile Ndudula, who was social development MEC Nancy Sihlwayi’s chief of staff and an ANC Chris Hani region leader.
Breaking her silence after East London high court judge Igna Stretch acquitted her, Bulelwa Ndudula said the experience – both in the criminal court and in the court of public opinion – was traumatic.
She is planning to sue the state.
“This has been a very traumatic and a shocking chapter in my life which will take time to overcome and heal from,” she said.
Sakhekile was killed in their Cambridge home on September 14 2016.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Dispatch at her attorney Mike Maseti’s office in EL this week, she told her story of how the trial pushed some of her friends away, but also how she made new ones.
While she had to endure evil stares and even ridicule in public, strangers also offered her their support, love and encouraging words. But she stayed strong, ascribing her resilience to the support she received from her family, friends and strangers.
Support from her two remaining children had been especially precious. Her and Sakhekile’s youngest child, a daughter, drowned.
Ndudula was arrested on September 30 2016, 16 days after Sakhekile was fatally shot four times.
She spent two months in East London Prison after she was denied bail by the local court, a decision later overturned on appeal by the Grahamstown High Court.
Her trial commenced in May.
On Monday she walked free, acquitted too of possessing an illegal firearm and ammunition.
Mrs Ndudula throughout her trial had looked stylish and flashed a few broad smiles at the cameras. This week she admitted she was a “fashionista” who designed and wore her own outfits to court.
However, throughout the trial, she refused to talk to the media, but this week said, in a quavering voice: “I was hurt so much by the fact that I had to be in court, while I was supposed to be peacefully mourning the death of my husband,”
Upon her release from prison on bail in December 2016, she had to attend psychotherapy counselling sessions “because all this was was too much for me”.
She said some members of the public had already found her guilty long before the court made its judgment.
“I have been called names. People talked behind my back, and even when I was walking in malls and other public places, you will see the way people looked and laughed at me. Some would pass unpleasant comments, without even knowing the pain and hurt I was going through.
“I told myself that I should keep my smile, even though I was hurting inside, because I knew I was innocent. I tried to keep my head up and walk tall because I knew that one day I would be cleared of all these dark clouds hovering over me.”
On the positive side, strangers would call or stop her on the streets and offer her “encouraging words that made me strong until this day”.
She kept her children away from court. “I did not want to expose them to all of this.”
At her school and church “people were divided, with some believing that I killed my husband, while others knew that I was not capable of such”.
Ndudula took paid leave in November 2017, and is set to go back to class on November 1.
The Ndudulas had a stormy relationship. The court heard the couple were married in 1996, separated in 2007, divorced in 2009 and remarried in 2012, a year after their youngest daughter drowned in a bathtub.
She said the saddest events in her life happened on September 30. Her child died on that day in 2011 and she was arrested on the same day in 2017.
She said October 8 was another unforgettable day. She buried her child on that day in 2011, and in a twist of fate, was acquitted on October 8 this year.
The widow sang her husband’s praises, calling him “a caring and loving father, who went out of his way to support those in need”.
She repeated her defence in court, that Sakhekile’s shooting by hitmen was “100% politically motivated. I am 100% certain that his killing had everything to do with his political work.
“He told me and his bosses about death threats he was receiving from some of his comrades just before he died.”
Ndudula’s evidence was that Sakhekhile was once held hostage at the ANC regional offices in Komani, had his car tyres slashed during a faction fight there, and these attacks were reported to his superiors in the ANC and the provincial government.
“I believe there is still more to this. I also believe I was used as a scapegoat to cover up for the real killers, but I am a praying woman and I know one day truth will prevail,” she said.
The trial had drained her financially. She sold “a lot of my valuable items” to cover her legal bills.
It had made her happy in court when “the wrongs done by police investigators and the prosecuting team, were exposed”.
Maseti, said: “We will definitely sue them (the national prosecuting authority) for this. They humiliated her throughout this process. It was thuggery at its best and it cannot be just business as usual.”
Mrs Ndudula said she wanted to write a book about it all.
I was hurt so much by the fact that
I had to be in court, while I was supposed to be peacefully mourning the death of my husband
NATTILY DRESSED: Bulelwa Ndudula attended court in a variety of dress styles.