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A former teacher and four others yesterday walked free from the Nelspruit circuit of the Pretoria high court following the withdrawal of murder charges against them.
Former teacher Boiki Kenneth Ngobeni, 50, and Dingaan Mnisi, 22, Camuel Godi, 21, Fumani Moyane, 27, and Jonathan Gouws, 23, were freed after the court ruled that there was not enough evidence against them.
The court, however, also ruled that the matter would still be heard, but as an inquest to establish if anyone was responsible for the murder.
"I have always insisted that I was innocent but no one wanted to believe me," said Ngobeni.
The case followed the hacking to death of Thomas Mathebula, a cleaner at the Thulamahashe shopping complex, in the township in August 2005.
The group was accused of draining blood from the victim and apparently selling it to an inyanga in Gauteng for the purposes of making muti.
Eight people were initially arrested shortly after the incident, but three had their cases withdrawn, also due to lack of evidence to nail them.
The three who had their cases withdrawn earlier were taxi boss Simon Khoza, 41, Bongani Khoza, 28, no relation to Simon, and Manyathela Skhumbane, 50.
Ngobeni and his co-accused had allegedly cornered Mathebula as he left the Matric Madalane tavern in Thulamahashe shortly after 10pm and hacked him to death.
Police found Mathebula lying in a pool of blood a few hours later after a member of the community had called them to the scene.
Police investigations led to the arrest of Gouws, who later confessed and implicated the others.
He made the confession to a mob that had apprehended him and tied him to a railway line, threatening to let the train run him over unless he revealed his accomplices.
Gouws yesterday asked for forgiveness from Ngobeni, saying he had implicated him because he wanted to save his own life.
"Sorry boss, I knew you were innocent but these people were going to kill me if I had not implicated anyone," Gouws told Ngobeni.
Mathebula's widow, Lucent Sibiya, said she was disappointed at the outcome. "I always wondered why people took the law into their own hands, but today I know why," cried Sibiya, the mother of three of Mathebula's children.