Um­lazi man still pay­ing for a crime he didn’t com­mit

Njab­ulo Ndlovu is a free man but he is still be­ing pun­ished for a crime he didn’t com­mit

DRUM - - Contents - BY ZAMA CHUTSHELA

HE FELT free as a bird just a few months ago. Af­ter spend­ing more than a decade in prison for a crime he didn’t com­mit, Njab­ulo Ndlovu was des­per­ate to pick up the pieces of his bro­ken life. He wanted to grad­u­ate, get a job and start a fam­ily – yet get­ting his life back on track has been harder than he imag­ined.

“I knew life wouldn’t be sim­ple,” he says. “But I wasn’t pre­pared for this.”

A se­ries of ad­min­is­tra­tive bun­gles has seen the Um­lazi res­i­dent’s life put on hold yet again.

Even though he was cleared of rape last year, his record was not ex­punged, and be­cause of this Njab­ulo hasn’t been able to find work or sup­port him­self.

The 36-year-old tells DRUM he’s be­ing pun­ished for a crime he had no part of.

“I can’t get a job be­cause my crim­i­nal record is block­ing ev­ery job op­por­tu­nity that comes my way. I’m left with a stigma

that will be stuck with me for a long time,” he says.“Once again the jus­tice sys­tem is fail­ing me.” Njab­ulo was a 19-yearold law stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Dur­ban-Westville – now the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal (UKZN) – with dreams of run­ning his own prac­tice when his world fell apart.

A young preg­nant woman ac­cused him and 10 other men of rap­ing her at a tav­ern in 2002.

Njab­ulo knew the woman – she was a neigh­bour and fam­ily friend and her dad worked with his fa­ther, Mbuso.

He told the court that he’d seen her on the night of the at­tack but he didn’t rape her. He was, in fact, at home when the as­sault hap­pened.

The court didn’t be­lieve him and he was sen­tenced to life in prison along with two other men.

With the help of an old univer­sity friend, Njab­ulo fought for jus­tice and freedom. And af­ter 13 years in prison, the high court in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg fi­nally ac­quit­ted him of rape.

Last year a judge found there was no DNA ev­i­dence link­ing him to the crime and he was set free.

WHEN he was re­leased from Westville Prison Njab­ulo hit the ground run­ning try­ing to find work. He sent his CV far and wide. “For a long time I didn’t re­ceive any re­sponses un­til one le­gal firm in­vited me for an in­ter­view. I was ex­cited be­cause I thought it was go­ing to change my life,” he says.

“They asked me if I have a crim­i­nal record and I said no. I vol­un­tar­ily told them my story and they seemed to un­der­stand. Ev­ery­thing changed when they did a back­ground check. My crim­i­nal record showed up; I had no idea that it is still there.

“I was shocked be­cause I thought I’d au­to­mat­i­cally be cleared.”

The blight on his record is the rea­son he hasn’t been able to get a job in the 10 months he’s been free, he be­lieves.

Of the 10 jobs he’s ap­plied for, he was called only once for an in­ter­view.

“Just when I thought I was get­ting my life back ev­ery­thing changed,” he says. “I was told by the au­thor­i­ties from the Na­tional Prosecutin­g Author­ity not to worry about my record as it would be sorted out but they haven’t done so.”

He’s tried to clear his name but it’s been an up­hill bat­tle. “I’ve been to the po­lice sta­tion where I was ar­rested to have the crim­i­nal record re­moved but I re­ceived no joy.

“I’ve been to their head of­fice in Pre­to­ria but I was told to get a court judge­ment or proof that I was not guilty. I did that but I still haven’t been helped.

“I’m sup­posed to be free but it’s like I am still in prison.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tive bun­gles are drain­ing. “I still have to fight for my name to be re­moved from the sex-of­fender list. I have no doubt my name also ap­pears there,” Njab­ulo says for­lornly.

“I feel sad be­cause I shouldn’t have been con­victed in the first place. I’m still young but my life has been put on hold. Most of my peers have pro­gressed in their ca­reers but I am nowhere.”

WHEN we call the depart­ment of jus­tice, spokesper­son Chrispin Phiri says they’re aware of the case. “I can con­firm we are work­ing on this mat­ter. He sent ev­ery­thing we re­quired and I was hop­ing that by now he would be cleared,” Phiri says.

The wheels of jus­tice have been turn­ing very slowly for Njab­ulo. His plan is to sue

the state once his name has been cleared. “When I was ar­rested I was young and study­ing to­wards my LLB. I had a bright fu­ture ahead of me but all of that was de­stroyed,” he says. “Now I must spend money to clear my name. No one is work­ing at home, we all sur­vive on my par­ents’ pen­sions. I need to be com­pen­sated by the state.” Njab­ulo, whose older brother died while he was in prison, would like to look af­ter his par­ents. His losses over the past few years have been trau­matic and Njab­ulo be­lieves he needs coun­selling to come to terms with it all. “I have a strong sup­port sys­tem that in­cludes my par­ents and my friends but it’s not enough. “I am not okay,” he says. “I know I need pro­fes­sional help.” He longs to start a fam­ily but knows it is not the right time for him. “I know I’m not ready. “I’m deal­ing with my own demons,” he says. “I need to learn to love my­self first.” Mean­while, he’s try­ing to re­vive his dream of a ca­reer in law. Njab­ulo is study­ing at UKZN, where he hopes to fin­ish his law de­gree. “My par­ents and friends are pay­ing for my school fees,” he says. “I ap­pre­ci­ate it but I also feel em­bar­rassed that at my age I can’t take care of my­self.” He hopes one day to help oth­ers who find them­selves in his shoes. “There are many peo­ple in prison be­cause of wrong­ful con­vic­tions. My wish is to go back there and of­fer sup­port. “I be­lieve God used me to be an ex­am­ple. Help­ing oth­ers in a sim­i­lar po­si­tion would give me peace.”

‘I can’t get a job be­cause my crim­i­nal record is block­ing ev­ery job op­por­tu­nity that comes my way’

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