By Ntombi Mhlongo
Several accused persons who face charges under the Suppression of Terrorism Act of 2018 are now without a legal representative.
This follows the withdrawal of prominent Attorney Maxwell Nkambule who has confirmed that he will no longer represent them. Nkambule represented the duo of Musa Clement Kunene and Msindiso Ntshalintshali who were arrested by members of the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) on November 8, 2022, at Mbhuleni, Matsapha.
He was also representing three men accused of allegedly killing members of the security forces. These are Ncamiso Mabuyakhulu, who is a member of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO), Philani Sihlongonyane, a member of the Swaziland Liberation Movement (SWALIMO) and one German Robert Dlamini, whose political affiliation is unclear.
They are facing 29 counts under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. As if that is not enough, Nkambule was representing the three men who are accused of burning the Ngudzeni Inkhundla building.
These are Sibongiseni Hoshoba Shongwe, Bongani Goodman Mamba and Bongumusa Kenneth Kunene. This means that the accused will now face the struggle of finding a new legal representative at a time when most lawyers are now sceptical of representing some of the people implicated in the cases related to the violent incidents of the political unrest which culminated in looting, torching of property and deaths of citizens of the country.
Nkambule is the same lawyer who once reported that there were threats to his life after alleging that gunshots were fired at his car while returning from Big Bend to consult some of his clients.
Nkambule described the incident as an assassination attempt linked to his work as a legal representative of several suspects facing charges under the Suppression of Terrorism Act of 2018.
The charges include being found in possession of illegal explosives among others. During an interview, Nkambule said: “Procedurally, I have informed the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and have filed the Notices of Withdrawals not only for my clients in the charges but for other criminal matters wherein I am an attorney of record.”
Asked to state his reasons, the attorney said they were too obvious.
“It is common knowledge that an attempt against my life happened in early December 2022. Such a threat remains valid, and the police have not availed any assurance that they are on it nor that their investigations have produced any feedback. I remain cautious and fearful of my public participation.”
Besides informing the Office of the DPP, the attorney said he took instructions from all his clients individually and they agreed that in the best interests of all involved, he must withdraw his services.
However, he mentioned that as a human rights lawyer and defender, he still stands by his clients and will avail of his services if the current situation changes. Nkambule insisted that he believes in the old principle of not being guilty until proven.
“The people should be protected. It is the duty of us lawyers. And the continued threats against lawyers like me render the citizens hopeless and helpless,” he emphasized.
Acting Director of Public Prosecutions Lomvula Hlophe confirmed that her office has received the notice of withdrawal but, for now, there is no burden on the government to secure legal representation of the accused unless they face murder charges.
She stated that the onus will be on them (the accused) to relay that they need assistance in that regard which is when the government can then act.
She said for now, her office will wait for their matters to return to court and for Nkambule to publicly indicate his decision to withdraw.