Five police VIP protection officers, who were on stage with EFF leader Julius Malema the day he allegedly fired an assault rifle in the air, have testified they did not see anything.
The astonishing revelation emerged in the East London Magistrate’s Court on Thursday during the unlawful discharge of firearm trial of the 42-year-old politician and his security guard, Adriaan Snyman.
Malema faces charges of the unlawful possession of a firearm, unlawful possession of ammunition, and three counts of contravening the Firearms Control Act.
Snyman faces one count of contravening the act.
The charges stem from a 28 July 2018 incident in which Malema was captured on camera firing what appeared to be an automatic assault rifle during the EFF’s fifth birthday celebrations at the Sisa Dukashe Stadium in Mdantsane.
The investigating officer in the case, Colonel Rodney Swartbooi, told the court Malema’s VIP protectors, three of whom travelled with him from Gauteng and two from Eastern Cape, said they saw nothing.
Swartbooi revealed the information during cross-examination by Malema’s legal representative, advocate Laurence Hodes SC, and Shane Matthews SC for Snyman.
The three VIP officers were each carrying an R5 rifle while the two others were armed with 9mm Glock pistols.
Hodes said: “The obvious inference you are trying to draw is that all these people are armed, and they knew what firearms were and they claimed to have not seen any shooting, is that correct?”
Swartbooi told the court:
As indicated your worship, they indicated that they did not see any shooting.
Hodes grilled Swartbooi, asking him why he only recorded that information in his statement, but did not submit it in court as part of his evidence-in-chief.
“It was not intentional your worship,” responded Swartbooi.
In November 2018, Malema became the only politician not in government to enjoy the privilege of being escorted and protected by the state’s VIP unit.
This after a threat assessment conducted by Crime Intelligence at the time found Malema’s life was in danger.
Asked if Malema is still under protection, EFF spokesperson Sinawo Tambo told News24: “We don’t discuss security.”
The court also heard Snyman was not Malema’s guard on the day but gave security support to the EFF.
The court heard stadium manager Mzukisi Ndlovu also told Swartbooi he did not see the incident and several other people who attended the party made the same claims.
Hodes also questioned Swartbooi on why he did not tell the court a bomb technician with metal detectors and sniffer dogs combed the field at the stadium and found nothing.
The court heard that Captain Lunga Mbele, who was on duty at the Joint Operation Command Centre at the stadium, did a complete search of the stage and VIP tent and found no damage or evidence of a shooting incident.
Swartbooi maintained it was not intentional.
Under Hodes’ intense examination, he confirmed a fingerprint analysis was done on a spent cartridge found by a municipal cleaner on the field two days after the event.
The test results came out negative.
The defence has always maintained the spent cartridge may have been there at the field long before the event or could have been planted after the event.
Swartbooi said the source of the viral video footage showing Malema firing a rifle was never found.
An unimpressed Hodes said: “As you stand here five years later, you are telling us you don’t know the video taker?”
To which Swartbooi replied: “Yes, your worship.”
Asked Hodes: “You never attempted to find the source; do you agree with me.”
Swartbooi: “That is correct your worship.”
Hodes then accused Swartbooi of not bothering to verify the veracity and authenticity of the video footage.
He then intensified his attack, saying: “You told the court the docket was opened by AfriForum and another organisation. Did you ask AfriForum who was the source of this video?
“You don’t know where the chain of events began,” added Hodes to which Swartbooi merely said, “no”.
The trial continues.