One of the people accused of kidnapping world-renowned horticulturalists Rod and Rachel Saunders, was denied bail in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on Thursday.
Themba Xulu, 19, was found in possession of the couple’s cellphones, shortly after police started investigating their disappearance. The couple has not yet been found.
Magistrate Valaramen Kathravaloo said that there was nothing exceptional about the circumstances Xulu had presented to the court.
Xulu’s Legal Aid attorney Mondli Mthethwa, previously argued that the accused attended school and that he had very little knowledge of why he had been arrested.
But Kathravaloo dismissed this on Thursday and said there was no documentation to prove that he had attended school.
“Xulu tries to portray himself as an innocent young man attending school in Mthunzini, and he cannot be held to account on anything the State has said. He says he is a Grade 9 [pupil], but he submits no documentation to prove it. The court is of the view that the possession of the phones indicates he has implicated himself in a criminal conspiracy.”
Kathravaloo added that Xulu claimed to have helped police, but said: “The investigating officer denies this. He [Xulu] did not immediately give a reason for having their cellphones in his possession.”
Kathravaloo added: “He goes on to deny all knowledge of the robbery. This court is of the opinion he must go further and state how he came into possession of the phones. He previously he said he had a lot to tell the court. If he has a lot to tell the court, I haven’t heard it.”
Xulu appeared alongside his co-accused Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 38, and Fatima Patel, 27.
Xulu faces charges of theft, kidnapping and robbery with aggravating circumstances.
Del Vecchio and Patel face charges of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act. They previously abandoned their bail applications.
They are accused of having links to the Islamic State (ISIS) and of plotting the couple’s kidnapping near Bivane Dam in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal on February 12.
At a previous court appearance, Del Vecchio and Patel held hands. Patel also leaned her head on his shoulders.
On Thursday, State advocate Adele Barnard brought up the issue, claiming that Del Vecchio was disrespectful and smiled during their last appearance.
The couple did not show affection thereafter.
Del Vecchio also appeared more agitated and worn down in the dock. He stared sharply at the public gallery and also fixed his gaze on journalists.
Custody brought into question
The couple’s lawyer and seasoned legal mind Jay Naidoo, told Kathravaloo that Del Vecchio had previously been detained at Westville Prison in Durban, but that the Department of Correctional Services had moved him to Kokstad Maximum Prison.
“This is proving logistically difficult for us. It takes us three hours to get to him and then another three hours to return. We have been told the prosecutor’s office requested he be put at that prison. Can we not send him back to Westville?”
Barnard denied making the request and said the State did not have the power to do so.
“I was informed that [the] accused was moved last week. The State does not have the authority or mandate to have him moved. As explained, they [the defence] must take that up with the prison authorities. The prison authorities have concerns for the safety the other prisoners.”
Kathravaloo said he also could not interfere with prison authorities’ decision.
“I cannot instruct correctional services authorities.”
All three are in custody and will be back in court on April 12.