Bungle leaves miners locked up
SEVEN artisanal miners, who were arrested for trespassing, will have spent two weeks in custody awaiting their bail hearing, which is scheduled for next week.
This comes after proceedings were postponed for a second time yesterday, in order to give investigators additional time to collect basic evidence following a long weekend where police failed to confirm certain information such as the residential addresses of the accused.
On Tuesday, September 19, Ben Kwas, Victor Erasmus, Boeta van Wyk, Isaac Tshabadira, Mohale Hlajoe, Derrick Gouws and Kaibara Mohale were arrested for trespassing on a Kimberley Ekapa Mining Joint Venture (KEM-JV) site near Greenpoint.
They made their first appearance on Thursday last week, when the matter was postponed for seven days in order for the investigators to confirm their residential addresses and prior criminal records.
However, having already spent more than a week in custody, the accused were yesterday forced to return to the cells until next week Tuesday as the court heard that no progress had been made in the investigation.
According to the investigating officer, Warrant Officer Hercul Mitchell, who was summoned to the court by Magistrate Lance Roach yesterday afternoon, the relevant docket was delivered to their offices on Friday afternoon, after staff had already left for the long weekend.
This document went unattended until Tuesday this week, when it was returned to the court.
While testifying, Mitchell said that he had only learned of the bail application yesterday morning when he was contacted by the State to appear.
With three decades in law enforcement, the defence argued that Mitchell was experienced enough to be familiar with court proceedings and should have realised that dockets were returned to the court prior to a bail application.
“You should know from experience that there is a reason why the docket is returned to the court,” the miners’ legal representative, Sharon Davids, told Mitchell.
“These accused were arrested on September 19. Surely you must have realised why the docket was back at court.”
Davids emphasised that her clients had a constitutional right to a speedy trial and were being kept in custody unfairly because police had failed to perform their duties.
“It is unfair to keep them in custody in order to give the State time to prepare their case because the police were negligent,” she said.
However, Roach said that while he had seriously considered the accused’s release, he was unable to make this ruling.
“While the docket was available to the SAPS after the first appearance, it is unfortunate that the 25th was a public holiday, while the docket was returned to the court on the 26th,” said the magistrate.
“The accused have been in custody since September 19 and there is no evidence from the IO that there was any attention paid to confirming addresses.
“The court must be convinced that the accused will make themselves available to stand trial and won’t commit more offences if released on bail. The court is not convinced that this will be the case as addresses haven’t been confirmed.”
The accused’s formal bail application will take place on Tuesday. Danie van der Lith
SUPPORT: Addressing artisanal miners outside the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court yesterday, was Provincial Coordinator of Mining Affected Communities United in Action, Patrick Masilo. Picture: