THE STORY SO Far: Trag­i­cally Taken

Old O n 7 Jan­uary 2007, 10-year- Char­lene Makaza died sud­denly was in hos­pi­tal. When the case she’d been in­ves­ti­gated, it looked like suf­fo­cated. Her sex­u­ally as­saulted and Ge­orge Gwaze un­cle and adop­tive dad – but was he be­came the chief sus­pect painted

Chat - - True-Life! -

Char­lene Makaza had a dif­fi­cult start in life. She was born to poor par­ents in Zim­babwe, who died when she was a few years old.

Char­lene and her sis­ter were fac­ing a life on the streets when her mother’s sis­ter Si­fiso, and her hus­band Ge­orge Gwaze, agreed to adopt them.

The girls were flown over to live with the cou­ple at their home in Christchur­ch, New Zealand.

It should have been a fresh start for Char­lene.

But de­spite be­ing a happy and bright child, she was plagued by ill­ness.

She kept pick­ing up in­fec­tions and, al­though treated with an­tibi­otics, it was never long un­til she was poorly again.

In fact, she missed 20 days of school within a mat­ter of months, due to sick­ness.

Then, on 6 Jan­uary 2007, Char­lene took a sud­den turn for the worse.

With a soar­ing tem­per­a­ture and ex­treme di­ar­rhoea, she was rushed into hos­pi­tal.

Doc­tors fought to save her, but 18 hours later, on 7 Jan­uary, she died.

It was a huge shock for ev­ery­one, but no­body more so than her adop­tive par­ents.

When an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched, it was noted that dur­ing her treat­ment, doc­tors had tried to take a tem­per­a­ture anally from Char­lene.

Then they no­ticed she had hor­rific in­juries to her gen­i­tals.

An au­topsy af­ter her death con­cluded it was likely th­ese in­juries were caused by forcible pen­e­tra­tion.

It also found that a lack of oxy­gen had been a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to Char­lene’s death. A damn­ing pic­ture quickly be­gan to form. Based on the seem­ingly over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence, po­lice con­cluded Char­lene had been bru­tally raped and suf­fo­cated. And they were sure it was her un­cle and adop­tive dad, Ge­orge Gwaze, who had done it. Shortly af­ter, to his hor­ror, Ge­orge was ar­rested and charged with sex­ual as­sault and mur­der. Con­vinced that sex­ual abuse had taken place, the pros­e­cu­tion was hell­bent on con­vict­ing Ge­orge for his ‘sick­en­ing’ crime. For his part, Ge­orge strongly protested his in­no­cence from the off. When the case came to court, the pros­e­cu­tion in­sisted Ge­orge had raped Char­lene and smoth­ered her, maybe cov­er­ing her mouth to stop her cry­ing out. It was this, ac­cord­ing to the State, that caused her brain to be­come de­prived of oxy­gen, lead­ing to her death. The pros­e­cu­tion’s the­ory was sup­ported by Char­lene’s doc­tors and, at that point, the case looked cut and dry. When an ini­tial trial in 2008 ended in an ac­quit­tal for G Ge­orge, the State or­dered a r re­trial, de­ter­mined to m make him pay for his s sup­posed crime. At his sec­ond trial i in 2012, Ge­orge Gwaze was again p painted as a mon­ster. I It ap­peared that h he was doomed. Then came the t turn of the de­fence a and they had an a al­ter­na­tive ex­pla­na­tion t that would turn the w whole case on its head. They claimed there was s some­thing that no­body knew

he strongly protested his in­no­cence

about Char­lene that was go­ing to change ev­ery­thing... She was HIV pos­i­tive.

Char­lene had con­tracted the po­ten­tially lifethreat­en­ing con­di­tion from her mother when she was born.

That’s why she kept get­ting poorly. But no­body had tested her for it, or put two and two to­gether, so she hadn’t had the treat­ment she so des­per­ately needed.

Each time she got sick, she got weaker. The virus was rav­aging her body and no­body had re­alised.

The de­fence claimed Char­lene’s doc­tors were un­aware of how the ad­vanced un­treated virus presents in chil­dren – which can in­clude anal tears and fis­sures.

This, they claimed, would ex­plain why the doc­tors had mis­taken her gen­i­tal in­juries as a sign of sex­ual as­sault.

The court was also told that Char­lene had suf­fered such aw­ful di­ar­rhoea be­fore her ad­mis­sion to hos­pi­tal that it had put her body into a state of shock and had led to a lack of oxy­gen.

Sud­denly, it seemed fea­si­ble that Char­lene wasn’t a vic­tim of abuse and mur­der at the hands of her un­cle af­ter all.

But Ge­orge had al­ready been branded a pae­dophile and a mur­derer by the lo­cal me­dia, and many still be­lieved that he was re­spon­si­ble for Char­lene’s death.

‘It looked very damn­ing, and very dif­fi­cult,’ said GP and foren­sic physi­cian Felic­ity Goodyear-smith, med­i­cal ad­viser for the de­fence.

‘But when I went through it bit by bit and pro­duced a time­line, it all fell into place, and then it be­came in­cred­i­bly com­pelling that there was ac­tu­ally no crime.

‘Even though there may be strange co­in­ci­dences, there are ex­pla­na­tions for all of it.’

Ul­ti­mately, it would now be up to a jury to fig­ure out what had re­ally hap­pened to poor lit­tle Char­lene.

Af­ter hear­ing the ar­gu­ments for and against, they then faced the un­en­vi­able task of de­cid­ing Ge­orge’s fate…

char­lene: her death k came as a shoc

fter 14 hours, a jury ac­quit­ted Ge­orge Gwaze of the mur­der of his 10-year-old niece Char­lene Makaza.

They agreed Char­lene died as a re­sult of the un­treated HIV virus, not from sex­ual as­sault and suf­fo­ca­tion.

Af­ter the ver­dict, Ge­orge said, ‘It should never have come to this. It has been a ter­ri­ble time. This has wasted a large part of my life. But I’m happy com­mon sense has pre­vailed.’

Fol­low­ing the trial, De­tec­tive Se­nior Sergeant David Har­vey paid trib­ute to Char­lene and her fam­ily.

‘They’ve been through a great deal dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pros­e­cu­tion over the past five years, and we again ex­press our sym­pa­thy to them over the loss of Char­lene,’ he said.


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