WhatsApp row: State witnesses contradicted each other in security estate stabbing case

  • The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria has cleared Lourens Coetzee of the murder of his neighbour, Thembinkosi Thabethe.
  • Acting Judge Kobus Burger said the two State witnesses, who apparently witnessed the incident, contradicted each other.
  • Outside the court, Thabethe’s widow vowed she would not let the matter go without a fight.

A judge has ruled witness testimony in a murder case was so contradictory it appeared as if both people testifying appeared to be “on different planets”.

Acting Judge Kobus Burger found Leon Lourens Coetzee not guilty and discharged him for the murder of his neighbour, Thembinkosi Thabethe, who died five days after he was stabbed.

Coetzee stabbed Thabethe at the Green Acres Estate in Montana, Pretoria after he [Coetzee] had been attacked because of an apparent racist WhatsApp message.

READ | Man accused of murder following WhatsApp message row denied bail

In delivering his judgment, Burger remarked on the origin of the case and the WhatsApp message that led to the deadly incident.

“The faceless and unscrupulous person took a screenshot of a text message, seemingly without basis, deliberately sent the said message to Thabethe that Coetzee’s wife wrote the message referring to black people, in general, as pigs.”

He added:

This action could have been taken to create racial tension and hate. This action resulted in a tragic event which left many victims. The next of kin of Thabethe lost a father, brother, son and husband.

Burger said the two State witnesses, who claimed to have seen the incident, contradicted each other.

He added the pair was evasive when questioned.

“Two State witnesses contradicted each other. Their version of what happened at the scene differed so much that it seemed they were on different planets when the incident occurred.

“I had to caution the two witnesses to listen carefully when questions were posed to them.”

Burger found Coetzee acted in self-defence.

“Coetzee’s actions were not unlawful. I can’t agree with the contention by the State that Coetzee wanted to kill Thabethe. If he wanted to kill, he could have stabbed Thabethe repeatedly in front of his house.

He said Coetzee’s version was corroborated by a witness who testified on his behalf:

I thus find the deceased approached the accused with a stone in his hand, aiming at the head of the accused.

“Had the deceased succeeded with his attack, it might have had serious if not fatal consequences for the accused. I find the attack by the deceased unlawful. Coetzee was entitled to defend himself against the attack,” Burger added.

READ | Security estate stabbing: Family happy the accused was denied bail

Outside the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, Thabethe’s widow, Azola, vowed she would not let the matter go without a fight.

“We will gather strength from God who carried us up to this point. We will pursue the matter,” she said.

“I have been in court throughout the trial… We were anticipating this [judgment].

“It has finally come to this. It is what it is. We will pursue it. We hope the South African law and justice will somehow fight for us.”