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
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’