Vlakfontein murder accused may have thought smell from decomposing bodies was dead animal: lawyer

Ernest Mabaso, seen left, and co-accused Fita Khupe were facing of seven counts of murder and theft after they allegedly killed members of the Khoza family in Vlakfontein.
Ernest Mabaso, seen left, and co-accused Fita Khupe were facing of seven counts of murder and theft after they allegedly killed members of the Khoza family in Vlakfontein.
Image: Naledi Shange

As the bail application of the sole surviving murder accused in the Vlakfontein murder case resumed in the Protea Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday, his lawyer pulled out all the stops to prove that following the suicide of his co-accused, the state had no case against him.

Gerhard Landman representing 61-year-old Fita Khupe startled the court gallery as he answered questions by magistrate David Mhango as to how Khupe could have returned to the Khoza household from Zimbabwe on October 27 2018 and peacefully slept even as the smell of the decomposing bodies lingered in the air.

In answering this, Landman said the smell could have been masked by the Jeyes fluid which Khupe’s co-accused, Ernest Mabaso, had used to clean the house.

"But did that (the use of Jeyes fluid) not raise an alarm to him?" Mhango continued.

After hesitating, Landman said: "Maybe he thought it was a dog or cat that was dead down the road. I cannot say that he did not smell anything but in his mind, he thought that his family was in KwaZulu-Natal." 

Khupe had been in a longstanding relationship with one of the Khoza women who were found murdered and buried under piles of sand inside the house in October 2018.

Neighbours had complained of a strong stench coming from the house and on October 29 2018, police who reported to the house found the bodies of the seven family members. Some had been buried under piles of sand in a locked bedroom inside the house while others had been in an outside room, also covered in sand.

Khupe and his co-accused Ernest Mabaso were later arrested for the crime.

Twenty-seven-year-old Mabaso had then submitted both an affidavit and confession statement wherein he had admitted to killing the seven Khoza family members and raping three of them.

He claimed to have been acting under the instruction and threats of Khupe.

Mabaso had been living with the Khoza family for several months after fooling them into believing that he was a long lost relative – a plot he says, was orchestrated by Khupe and other unidentified people from Cape Town.

But Mabaso was found hanging in a police cell on January 19 in Cape Town, shortly after he had travelled there with police, saying there was information in the Western Cape that would show his link to Khupe.

On Tuesday, Landman said that that poured cold water on the state’s case against Khupe, saying their case had relied solely on the evidence of Mabaso who was now dead.

Landman said there was no substance to Mabaso’s allegations, and further submitted that there were inconsistencies in the affidavit and confession statements that he had submitted.

He stressed that his client had a "water-tight alibi" which proved that he was out of the country at the time the crimes were committed.

Landman submitted that it was plausible that the killings could have been commissioned by one of the Khoza family member who was currently behind bars. It was alleged that this relative may have wanted revenge against his family.

He said it was also plausible that the killings could have been linked to Sne Khoza who had lived in the same household but had travelled to KwaZulu-Natal at the time the killings were carried out. Landman said it was possible that she had wanted to inherit the house.

He called on the court to no longer consider the evidence of Mabaso.

"The confession will never be repeated under sworn oath," said Landman, adding that "the maker of the confession will never be cross-examined on it".

But the state prosecutor, Tumi Maunye, pressed on saying the state did have a case against Khupe.

Maunye said while the confession could not be used, the affidavits submitted to the court by both Khupe and Mabaso were admissible evidence.

He stressed that Mabaso’s version was supported by Khupe’s own cellphone records, which showed that while he was out of the country, he continued to call Mabaso but made no efforts to contact any of the Khoza family members.

Maunye highlighted that while Khupe had South African citizenship, he was a foreign national who posed a flight risk. He also reminded the court of the public outcry against Khupe’s release.

"We do have a strong case against the accused," he said.

Mhango postponed the case to February 4 when he will deliver his ruling on whether to grant Khupe bail.   


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