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
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.