Wednesday, 27 April 2005

Ambulance rape chilling, says judge

Ingrid Oellermann

April 27 2005 at 09:39AM

Three men were convicted in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday of having hijacked an ambulance and kidnapped two paramedics in the early hours of February 17 2004, but only one was found guilty of sexually abusing the ambulance crew in what the judge termed "a very traumatic manner".

Sentencing was postponed to May 3.

Thamsanqa Buthelezi, 22, of Mayville, Durban, was found guilty of raping the female ambulance assistant by physically forcing her colleague to perform a sexual act with her, as well as two counts of indecent assault relating to sexual acts he committed while holding the two at gunpoint.

Judge Jan Combrink with two assessors said despite the fact that Buthelezi did not personally have sexual intercourse with the woman, the actions he had forced the male paramedic to perform "in every way" fitted the legal definition of rape.

Combrink said that throughout the ordeal the woman had protested and her colleague had also tried to resist, but they were forced at the point of a gun to comply and were also struck by Buthelezi.

He said Buthelezi's co-accused - Siphesihle Khumalo, 22, and Mbusiswa Zondi, 21, both of Taylor's Halt, near Pietermaritzburg - could not be found guilty of the sexual assaults by Buthelezi because the evidence did not show that they performed any act of association with Buthelezi's conduct in this regard.

In law a bystander - even one who approved - could not be found guilty of forming a common purpose to commit a crime unless he or she performed an act of association, the judge said.

He rejected the defences raised by all three men that they had not voluntarily participated in the hijacking of the ambulance or in kidnapping the paramedics.

Only Khumalo had testified in his defence, and the judge rejected his evidence as palpably false wherever it differed from the version presented by the prosecution witnesses.

Combrink said he had applied the cautionary rule when considering the evidence of the two accomplices to the hijacking, Sbusiso Ndlovu and Simon Seatlana, who were self-confessed criminals.

But he said there was ample corroboration for their version, which tallied with the state's evidence, and there were several other safeguards present.

The judge granted Ndlovu and Seatlana indemnity from prosecution in the case.

Earlier, Combrink described as "chilling" the tale the two men told about how they, the three accused and two other accomplices, Xolani Makhoba and man known as "Landani", had met up and had agreed to drive around the city in search of a Toyota Hiace to hijack in order to satisfy a buyer who had allegedly offered to pay R20 000 for one.

It was plain their plan had not been to merely steal a vehicle, but to rob a driver at gunpoint.

"It was fortunate for some unknown, indeterminate victim that they could not find a suitable vehicle to hijack. It became late in the day and eventually a plan was settled upon to order an ambulance on the pretext of a medical emergency."

The judge found it proved that the first ambulance which responded to a call by the hijackers near Cedara College had been sent away by Seatlana because it was a Ford and not a Toyota Hiace.

Six members of the group, including the accused, then decided to make one more attempt to secure the right vehicle and created another bogus emergency, summoning an ambulance to Pholani Bottle Store in Imbali. This was the vehicle that was hijacked.

The vehicle was eventually stripped of its wheels in a forested area and set alight, apparently in an attempt to remove any fingerprints.

This article was originally published on page 3 of The Mercury on April 27, 2005


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