Parliament arson accused unfit to stand trials, finds court

The Western Cape High Court declared arson and terrorism accused, Zandile Christmas Mafe unfit to stand trial converting him from a criminal accused to a mental health patient.

PICTURE - Storm Simpson: Alleged Parliament arsonist, Zandile Mafe

Judge Nathan Erasmus on Monday, remanded Mafe to the hospital section of Pollsmoor Prison while waiting for a bed to be available at a psychiatric hospital.

Mafe was arrested on 2 January 2022 after he sat on the pavement opposite the entrance of Parliament in Plein Street appearing to be observing Parliament.

The state alleges that before that, on 21 December 2021, he bought petrol for R10 at a petrol station in Bellville, boarded a taxi to Cape Town with the fuel. After the police guarding the entrance in Plein Street left, he scaled the fence and made his way into the parliamentary precinct. He loitered the precinct and at some point he avoided a police patrol by hiding behind a wall. He also crawled and remained on his stomach to avoid detection.

;;He entered the Old Assembly through an unlocked and unproperly secured door. Once inside he started collecting cardboard boxes, paper, and office chairs which he placed in front of closed doors of offices in the Old Assembly and sprinkled petrol on them. He tore curtains and later used the pieces of fabric as kindling. He then moved to the public gallery of the National Assembly where he began tearing cardboard boxes and papers and throwing on the floor of the National Assembly. Mafe returned to the Old Assembly building and set the items on fire. He moved to the National Assembly where he threw petrol from public gallery onto the floor of the National Assembly,’’ said Eric Ntabazalila, National Prosecuting Authority Western Cape spokesperson.

‘’He made his way to the window of the Old Assembly and was arrested as he attempted to get out carrying bags with him. He also had a black sling bag with personal items whilst in some other bags he had coffee, spices, official parliamentary stamps, stationery, clothing, shoes, crockery, dumbbell weight, keys, ANC and the South African flag, extension electrical cord, toiletries, stainless multi-tool, kettle, toaster, and black toiletry bag. He was charged with housebreaking with intent to commit arson and arson, terrorism, and theft,’’ he added.

Following his arrest, Mafe was referred to a district surgeon to determine whether he had any injuries before making a confession. After observing him, the district surgeon referred him to Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital, which was overturned due to technicality by the high court.

After several appearances and postponements, the state applied for Mafe to be sent for mental observation. The defence did not oppose the application and he was admitted at Fort England Hospital where he was admitted on 29 March 2023 until 24 May 2023.

‘’Numerous clinical interviews and assessments, physical and neurological examinations including blood tests were conducted. A multi-disciplinary team including psychiatrists, medical officers, psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers, and nurses. They also obtained collateral report from his family in North West The panel of three doctors from the hospital produced report which declared that he was unable to follow court proceedings to make a proper defence,’’ said Ntabazalila.

‘’It also found that at the time of the alleged offence, he was unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of the act in question and unable to act in accordance with such appreciation of wrongfulness. It declared that he suffered from Schizophrenia. After this report, Mafe told the court that he intended challenging it and requested some time to consult his own doctor. His doctor came to the same conclusion that he suffered from Schizophrenia and unfit to stand trial.’’

Mafe disputed both reports arguing that he was fit to stand trial. Yesterday, his lawyer, Adv Dali Mpofu SC likened him to Dimitri Tsafendas, Greek Mozambican who assassinated then South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd on 06 September 1966. He accused the state of wanting to silence Mafe. He said Mafe was ready to start his trial, but the state insisted that he was mad. He attacked the panel’s report arguing it was defective and could not be fixed by evidence of Dr Seshoka, the head of psychiatry at Fort England Hospital. Advocate Mervyn Menigo rubbished the argument arguing that the state takes no pleasure prosecuting a man who is ill. He argued that the report complied in terms of the act and that the court needed to satisfy itself that the accused was fit to stand. He further argued that he was there to protect Mafe’s rights to dignity and that the state had overwhelming evidence to successfully prosecute Mafe. There was no joy in the state to prosecute a man who was mentally unfit.

Judge Nathan Erasmus agreed with Adv Menigo’s arguments and found the report to have complied in terms of the Act. He further found Mafe unfit to stand trial. Adv Mpofu SC indicated to the court more than once that they intend to appeal the findings of the court.

The NPA meanwhile welcomed the decision of the court.


Done By: Mitchum George


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