by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (March 7th 2013)
Almost 20 years ago Zandra Mitchley and teenagers Shaun Nel and Claire Silberbauer were murdered in a notorious armed attack on a car approaching Eikenhof, which is near Johannesburg. All the occupants were white people with no connection to the Apartheid state.
The attack shook the country. It happened as South Africa’s transition from Apartheid to majority rule was taking shape. If its aim was to derail that process it almost succeeded, as the police and prosecutor tried to make political capital from the tragedy, accusing and falsely convicting three innocent men – men they knew were innocent.
The African National Congress and its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe had ended their armed struggle against Apartheid. This case was used to try to claim that the ANC were negotiating in bad faith – they were not. The interests of justice were disgracefully sacrificed to shameful political expediency and the perceived interests of a criminal regime – a crime against humanity, no less. In a system pock-marked by terrible affronts to justice this remains one of its worst ever miscarriages of justice.
It is the clearest of South Africa’s vindication cases – a difference-making travesty of justice that could and should have ensured that the new South Africa, the so-called Rainbow Nation, has a criminal justice system that is the envy of the world. Instead apathy, cynicism and political opportunism reign in a sorry tale of justice betrayed again and again.
Three men were wrongly convicted of the three murders and the attempted murder of Norman Mitchley and Craig Lamprecht in the Eikrenhof attack. Siphiwe James Bholo, Sipho Gavin and Boy Ndweni (the Eikenhof Three) had strong alibis that they were in Wesselsbron, about 380 kilometres away when the attack occurred. It mattered not a whit to investigators and South Africa’s criminal justice system past and present.
Alibi witnesses were shamefully bullied. Perjury was committed. There was colossal non-disclosure of vital evidence that not only proved the Eikenhof Three innocent, but that the whole case was a gross conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. It was well known that the Eikenhof Three were members of the African National Congress (ANC) and that the attack had been organised and executed by the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) – the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC).
This information and more was ruthlessly suppressed. But even after it emerged the South African criminal justice system kept the lid on the scandal, denying innocent men the clear acknowledgement of vindication that had been proved beyond reasonable doubt – any really. Despite a plethora of causes for concern there has been no investigation of the notorious case to establish what went wrong and prevent repetition to date, let alone criminal sanctions of those responsible.
Precedent and Necessity
The convictions of the Eikenhof Three were eventually quashed on appeal. A retrial was ordered, but it has never taken place and almost certainly never will. It leaves an element of doubt about their innocence where no credible doubt exists. Their case is too important to be left in limbo. It is part of a wretched pattern of abuse of justice, even in vindication cases like this.
The case of the Eikenhof Three is the difference-making case for South Africa. During the transition from Apartheid the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established. Among those who applied for amnesty was Phila Dolo. He ordered the attack. A raid on a PAC (Pan Africanist Congress of Azania) ‘safe-house’ in Botswana yielded documents including Dolo’s report on the Eikenhof attack.
There is no doubt that it was an attack carried out by the APLA. Even weapons used in the attack were linked to Dolo and therefore the APLA. Gavin and Bholo had been sentenced to death and Ndweni to 17 years – only his youth saved him from a sentence of death for a crime the authorities knew full well none of the Eikenhof Three committed.
Despite a change in government – a landslide in favour of three innocent activists’ party the ANC – they remained in prison. Even after the TRC reported, giving amnesty to Dolo, meaning it believed his account of the Eikenhof attack, the Eikenhof Three were not immediately freed. Absurdly it was the PAC who picketed the jail they were held in, demanding their release.
And now over a decade after they were released on appeal with a retrial ordered they remain cheated of even an explanation of why they were deemed expendable casualties of a war that had ended and of a peace process that has yet to deliver justice and an apology to them. It is the very least that they deserve. In fact, it is the very least that the new South Africa deserves.