Senior State Counsel Jannie Engelbrecht spent two days this week closing the State’s case against three young men on trial following the discovery of Denise Nogqala’s battered body on a rubbish pile at the top of M Street on Sunday 5 December, 2016. Denise was 22 when she died, leaving two young sons.
Today the first of the three accused, Lindani Vamva, 19, is testifying in the High Court in Grahamstown. The three were 16, 18 and 19 when they were arrested. Two of them were Grahamstown schoolboys. All were friends and close neighbours who grew up together. The events leading to Denise’s death centred around an evening of drinking at Cool Spot Tavern in Joza for a “pens-down” celebration.
Vamva is being represented by Legal Aid-appointed Advocate Jock McConnachie, Siphamandla Futhufuthu (19) by Legal Aid lawyer Deon Geldenhuys and Counsel Willem Olivier represents the minor (17) who may not be identified because of his age. Judge Mbulelo Jolwana is presiding in the High Court in Grahamstown.
As the prosecutor questioned additional witnesses on Monday and Tuesday, the court heard evidence about bizarre and desperate attempts to hide Denise’s body under cover of darkness and conceal bloodstains with paint, as well as the trauma of a child who saw what happened and couldn’t find anyone to tell.
Earlier in the trial, young men who were part of the same circle of schoolfriends and neighbours described what the State says was the brutal rape and assault of a young woman by their own peers. The defence has several times questioned whether it was light enough to see properly what was happening in the room where the alleged acts took place, and who was involved.
On Monday this week, a Grade 8 schoolboy wore his school uniform as he stood in the witness box and described how he’d been woken by whispering in the dead of night and the nearby high-mast light had allowed him to see two of the accused pushing the limp, naked body of a young woman into an indentation in the ground, barely three steps away from his bedroom window. Her head bleeding profusely, they pushed her face-down into the hole between his bedroom wall and an adjoining container, and covered her with a metal bathtub, the boy said.
At the time barely more than 15 years old, he went to tell his parents – but they were drunk and he couldn’t wake them up, he told the court. Terrified, he crept into their bed and remained there with them for the rest of the night.
From the forensics officer who collected evidence at various locations associated with the case, Engelbrecht elicited in meticulous detail the process of collecting, packaging and dispatching each sample.
Detective Danny Britz, also called to give additional evidence, was required to give the exact distances between the locations and knew that it was exactly 25 steps from the house of the first accused to the container; 173.6 metres along the road from there to the dumpsite and a further 18.5 metres from there to where Denise’s body was discovered by a resident early on Sunday 5 December.
Questioned by Engelbrecht, Britz spoke of what appeared to be a bizarre attempt to use paint to cover up bloodstains in the area where Denise’s body had been first concealed.
Both the zinc bathtub and a tin of paint had later been found at the home of one of the accused.
Immediately after Engelbrecht closed the State’s case on Tuesday 13 March, Olivier made an application to have the case against the minor he is representing discharged. In court on Wednesday, Judge Jolwana refused the application, saying he had scrutinised the court records the night before and would give reasons for his refusal in his judgment.
A much loved daughter, sister, cousin and niece, Denise came to live in Vukani with relatives at the age of 10, having spent most of her childhood on a farm west of Grahamstown. She spent a few years at school here. The mother of two little boys – 2 and 4 at the time of her death – she returned to the farm during the week, employed as a domestic worker.
On the weekend of her death, she was visiting friends and family in Grahamstown. Her brother, Luthando, along with other family members, is shattered by her violent death and wants to know what happened.
The case is being heard in camera (no members of the public permitted), with a limited number of close relatives of the young accused permitted in court.