'You are safer behind bars'

Thembela Khamango

Thembela Khamango

Lawyers are also abandoning four of the five accused in the Thato Radebe murder trial.

The community of Soweto, mostly pupils from various high schools in the sprawling township, have made it clear that the accused are pariahs.

In fact, the public gallery roared in approval and cheered in the Protea magistrates' court yesterday when magistrate Herman Badenhorst told one of the accused: "I've heard that story before.

"No bail for murder and rape suspects, but it is your right to apply for bail if you want."

Badenhorst was responding to a statement by accused Nqobile Sibisi, 18, who had asked to be released because he did not know why he had been arrested. He had raised his hand and asked to address the court.

The accused - Sibisi, Stanley Masemola, 20, Mandla Mtshali, 20, Themba Mndaweni, 18, and Thabiso Ganta, 21 - were dressed in casual shabby clothes.

Their appearance in court follows the discovery of the body of 14-year-old Thato in a veld at Emndeni, Soweto, on February 3.

The grade 8 pupil at Bedfordview High School is believed to have been raped and stoned. Used condoms were also found at the scene.

The lawyers representing the accused also asked to be excused, saying they would only represent Mndaweni because the other four were changing their stories.

Sibisi claimed not to have seen his co-accused before. He said he was a bystander at the crime scene and the police "just arrested me".

The case was postponed to March 13 for further investigation and DNA results.

As they left the courtroom, people in the public gallery shouted at the accused that they were better off behind bars because the streets were no longer safe for them.

Members of the ANC Women's League (ANCWL) also protested outside the court.

"We are appealing for a maximum sentence, and not a life sentence because the sentence would only be for 25 years.

"They must spend the rest of their lives in jail," said Bontle Setshogoe, regional organiser for the ANCWL.