Port Elizabeth – Media were barred by security from attending open court proceedings in the case against ANC provincial heavyweight Andile Lungisa at the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s court on Monday morning.
Lungisa and Gamalihleli Maqula, both ANC councillors in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, are facing charges of assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm, relating to a brawl in council chambers in October last year.
Lungisa is accused of smashing a glass jug over the head of mayoral committee member for transport, Rano Kayser, while Maqula is accused of stabbing chief whip, Werner Senekal in the back with a sharp object.
Media denied access to open court
The matter was set down for trial to start on Monday at 09:00, but when a News24 correspondent, along with other media representatives, arrived at court, they were denied access to the building and asked to step aside and produce their media cards.
Upon producing the relevant identification, they were still not allowed to enter and detained a further 15 minutes, until concerns were raised that the case may have already started. Media were then made to sign an attendance form, before being allowed to pass through the security checkpoint.
Upon arriving outside court 22, where the matter was to be heard, additional security members again prevented the media from entering the court room.
These security measures are not standard procedure at the PE magistrates court, although similar security was encountered during appearances of Nigerian pastor, Timothy Omotoso.
However, in the Omotoso case, there have been hundreds of the charismatic pastor’s supporters protesting outside and trying to gain access to the court, whereas in this case the court itself was all but empty.
Numerous requests to be allowed to enter were ignored, even after the media representatives saw witnesses and the two co-accused enter the courtroom. One security guard even checked and reported that the matter was already underway, but still refused media entry.
Only after the matter was escalated, were media allowed to enter, having missed the state prosecutor’s address to the court and catching the tail end of the defence’s address to magistrate Morné Cannon.
Attempts to get comment on why the media had been prevented from attending court have been unsuccessful.
Security officials said they were not allowed to comment to the media. National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson, Tsepo Ndwalaza referred queries to the Department of Justice’s Mthunzi Mhaga.
Mhaga had not responded to SMS or WhatsApp queries at the time of publishing this story.
Lungisa a controversial provincial ANC figure
Lungisa has been surrounded by controversy this year. He was elected and endorsed by President Jacob Zuma as regional chairperson of the ANC in Nelson Mandela Bay, before being ordered to step down.
He subsequently stood for the position of ANC provincial secretary, as part of the team behind former chair and Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle. The provincial elective conference, held in East London, however it descended into chaos.
When the elective conference reconvened, Masualle’s supporters were not present and Oscar Mabuyane was elected as Eastern Cape chair of the ANC.
An open letter by Ace Ncobo, Fifa accredited referee and ANC party member, claimed Lungisa was behind the chaos at the conference that saw some members admitted to hospital. Lungisa has denied the allegations, saying Ncobo was a liar who had no known record in politics
A court case is scheduled to be heard in East London later in November, to have the elective conference overturned.
State makes impassioned plea for trial to begin
Following proceedings, News24 sought copies of the court record, which showed that state advocate, Wayne Ludick, had made an impassioned plea for the case to proceed to trial, due to the numerous postponements that had already taken place.
The case has already been postponed in March, April, May and August this year.
Luthando Ngqakayi, for the co-accused, said they had launched an appeal to the national director of public prosecution to have the case reviewed and the charges dropped against his client.
Magistrate Cannon then set the matter down for trial, to be heard on January 22 next year and, if need be, January 23.
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