Thandi Maqubela might be free soon and ready to claim her late husband’s life insurance
Thandi Maqubela could soon be out on parole – and might be getting ready to fight for a share of her late husband’s estate
IT HAS all the juicy ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster – sex, lies, infidelity, greed, blackmail and a murder trial. The lead characters – respected acting judge Patrick Maqubela and his high-flying businesswoman and socialite wife, Thandi – appeared to have it all. They had fabulous houses in some of South Africa’s wealthiest areas, packed wardrobes, gleaming cars and enviable holidays.
Then in 2009 the judge is found dead in his apartment in Cape Town’s swanky Bantry Bay and his estranged wife is the prime suspect.
The prosecution believes the judge was suffocated to death and his estranged wife – dubbed the Black Widow by the local media – is sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2015. Case closed, right? Fast-forward two years and Thandi Maqubela’s lawyers succeed in getting the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein to overturn the murder sentence against their client.
Although the prosecution believed the acting judge was suffocated, the cause of death was never conclusively proven and on 29 September the SCA acquitted Thandi (62) of murder. The court found he probably died of natural causes.
Now, with the murder charge off the table, a new battle begins as the family scrambles for the dead judge’s estate.
During the murder trial – when Thandi made headlines for arriving at court in a non-stop parade of swirling turbans and designer sunglasses – it was revealed the acting judge died insolvent due to his enormous debt.
But he had life insurance to the tune of R12 million. And with Thandi off the hook for murder, she could lay claim to a chunk of the insurance money.
Yet there’s a little snag . . . Thandi, who during her trial claimed her husband had regularly cheated on her, is currently serving a sentence for forgery and fraud. The court found she forged her husband’s will and she was sentenced to three years for two counts of forgery and fraud.
The former nursing sister’s legal team is now working towards her release from prison in Worcester in the Western Cape.
Thandi’s lawyer, Yolanda Slager, says her client already served two years and five months and is eligible for parole.
“We’ve notified the master of the high court of the SCA’s decision to overturn
the murder charge against our client,” Yolanda says.
And Thandi’s lawyers believe she has a good chance to inherit from the estate because she has no blood on her hands.
DUMA Maqubela, Thandi’s stepson, is not convinced his father died of natural causes, due to the bizarre circumstances around his dad’s death. Maqubela senior was found dead a day after he expressed his intention to divorce his wife.
“The reality is that my father was found in bed with a suit on and a tracksuit over that. Why did he have a pillow over his face and a sheet over him? Why were the heaters on in the room? We know it was not natural,” Duma says.
The prosecution maintained that Patrick had been suffocated to death, possibly with a piece of clingfilm that was left in a bin, and found to bear Thandi’s fingerprints.
Duma admits he’s never had a good relationship with his stepmom. However, he tried to extend an olive branch to his adult half-sisters, Skethucwaka and Athenkosi, but they didn’t seem keen to embrace him. Duma says he and his family aren’t going to push the issue.
The sisters published a book, Memories in Letters, a collection of letters their father wrote to them when he was a political prisoner on Robben Island.
The sisters have also been through a tough time. They lost their father and had their mother taken away from them when she was sent to jail. They also had to hear Judge John Murphy describe their mother as a “mendacious witness” who told no less than 40 lies, both in and outside of court. Her behaviour was read as “incompatible with innocence”.
But they must have found a new measure of comfort now that their mom has been acquitted of murder.
“My client is innocent and she and her children suffered a lot during the trial,” Yolanda says.
“Those were sad times for her and her daughters but now they will soon be reunited. The daughters are mature adults but they don’t want to talk to the media. They want to continue with their lives and are looking forward to the day their mother is released on parole.”
Duma admits he has to find some way of making peace with the decision of the appeal court and is making a concerted effort to go on with his life.
“I’m not hurting. This is something I have no control over. The decision to overturn my stepmother’s sentence is not something I’m going to fight because it is a matter between the state and Thandi Maqubela.”
BUT with his stepmom’s possible imminent release from prison, Duma and his family are afraid she’ll once again try to sow division by interfering with the winding up of Patrick’s estate.
Thandi, according to Duma, had already objected – through her lawyers – to the execution of the estate on the grounds that one of his father’s daughters from another marriage was, according to Thandi, not his daughter.
Another major concern is that Thandi’s inclusion might further delay the winding up of the estate. And with Thandi now possibly also claiming her share, the rest of the family might have to settle for a much smaller slice of the pie. But while Thandi’s lawyers are confident their client has the right to claim from her deceased husband’s estate now that she has been acquitted of his murder, some legal experts disagree with them. Nanika Prinsloo, a lawyer who specialises in deceased estates and wills, says Thandi can’t stake her claim to her husband’s estate because she committed the crimes of fraud and forgery.
After her husband’s death, Thandi submitted a will to the master of the high court in Johannesburg, which listed her as the beneficiary and executor of her husband’s estate.
This will she submitted was found to be forged and it emerged Patrick died intestate. “She forged a will and tried to pass it off as authentic,” Nanika says. “The high court found her guilty of this crime. There’s no way she can succeed in inheriting from the estate, even if she goes to court.”
Linda Schoeman-Malan, a professor of private law at the University of Pretoria, agrees. She says though the murder conviction was overturned, Thandi stands no chance of staking a claim from her deceased husband’s estate because she was found guilty of forgery and fraud.
“Even if she was found not guilty on a technical point in the forgery and fraud cases, she could still be unworthy to claim from the estate.
“If she has any claims against the estate and the executor or master of the high court rejects it, she’ll have to approach the court again, but I doubt she will succeed.”
By all accounts, it sounds like this particular blockbuster will have a rather riveting sequel.
LEFT: Duma Maqubela is concerned his stepmother, Thandi Maqubela – whose sentence for the murder of his father Patrick has been overturned – will interfere with the winding up of his father’s estate.
ABOVE: A police officer handcuffs Thandi after she was sentenced for the murder of her husband, judge Patrick Maqubela (RIGHT).