SOLLY Zitha, the man who the community has dubbed "a habitual stock thief", assaulted a journalist in full view of court orderlies in the Mhala magistrate's court yesterday.

Zitha's outrageous behaviour led members of the public to attack him in court.

The drama started when freelance journalist Oris Mnisi tried to take a picture of Zitha and his co-accused in a murder case Alinah Magagula.

This was shortly after magistrate Rodgers Ritshuri had adjourned the court for a break.

When Mnisi pointed the camera at Magagula and Zitha the latter dashed out of the dock and jumped on Mnisi. But members of the public in the court came to Mnisi's rescue and turned on Zitha.

"You s..t, you take my pictures to destroy me or buy people to come and kill me. I will kill you first," Zitha said as he tried to punch Mnisi.

Zitha kicked Mnisi several times before the court orderlies took him (Zitha) into custody.

The police had a tough time trying to control the angry crowd in court and had to call for back-up.

Outside the court a defence lawyer, identified only as Van Niekerk, also threatened Mnisi, saying the law prohibited journalists from taking pictures in court.

Mnisi later laid a charge of assault and intimidation at the Mhala police station.

When magistrate Ritshuri later resumed court proceedings the prosecutor asked to be removed from the case, claiming to have received threats from members of the public.

"I'm now afraid for the safety of my wife and my family because of the threats," the unidentified prosecutor said.

"I'm part of this community and they know where I live."

Van Niekerk supported the prosecutor's request and applied for the case to be heard in camera because people were unruly. He accused Mnisi of causing havoc by taking pictures.

Ritshuri granted the prosecutor's request and warned journalists to take pictures in the court building only after receiving written permission.

Zitha and Magagula are charged with the murder of Vhamia Mfukwa Hlabangwane, 73, on December 23 last year.

Hlabangwane was attacked when she tried to reclaim her cattle from Zitha's home at Sgagula Trust near Acornhoek.

Zitha had allegedly stolen the cattle and took them to his home before Hlabangwane, who was the mother of Munghana Lonene FM news presenter Lillian Hlabangwane, arrived to claim them.

Zitha and Magagula were arrested the day after the murder, but Zitha was later released on R800 bail under mysterious circumstances. He was rearrested after Ritshuri revoked his bail.

The accused were remanded and will appear in court again next week Tuesday.