Sifiso Zulu has lost his appeal against a three-year sentence for culpable homicide and will have to hand himself over to prison authorities on Monday, or face arrest.
On Friday, Judge Piet Koen, in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, handed down a reserve judgment denying Zulu’s appeal on two counts of culpable homicide, reckless and negligent driving, failing to stop after an accident and drunken driving.
In his judgment, Judge Koen slammed Zulu as a remorseless “amateur” who tried to deceive the court when there was an “overwhelming” case against him.
In 2008, Zulu’s car collided with a bakkie transporting church worshippers in Durban, and two young women were killed.
On Saturday, when contacted by The Tribune, Zulu claimed not to know that his last legal avenue to avoid jail had been exhausted.
“What?” he exclaimed. “Where did you get this? I haven’t heard a thing. I actually have no clue what you are talking about.”
When asked if he would call his lawyers for confirmation of Judge Koen’s ruling, he said: “Until they tell me this is what has happened, I have no reason to call them. I am completely in the dark about this development.”
Darkness still enshrouds the families of the crash victims, and injured survivors. Dudu Ngema, whose husband Thami was driving the vehicle Zulu collided with, has been left disabled and is on crutches. She is terrified that Zulu will flee to avoid jail.
“I am relieved that his appeal was overturned but I can’t see him going to prison. He knows my husband works at Westville Prison, but more than that, he is so arrogant. He believes he can escape the consequences of his actions. I think he is going to disappear.”
Natasha Ramkissoon, NPA KZN spokeswoman, said that the law dictated Zulu had 48 hours to hand himself over to police to begin his sentence.
“As the judgment was made on Friday, and the Clerk of the Court is not at work over the weekend, it will take effect on Monday,” she said.
“The minute court reconvenes, a warrant for his arrest will be issued, if he doesn’t comply.”
Zulu asked the Tribune for a copy of the judgment, but then declined to comment.
After his sentence was handed down in August 2010, a defiant Zulu said outside court: “This case is far from over. Why must I sit and cry? I am not going to jail.”
A director of 29 companies, he has fallen a long way from grace. Zulu is a former president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and former vice-chairman of the Paris-based World Chamber of Commerce.
Although his company Emtateni won the lucrative contract to install the city’s pre-paid parking meters, he has claimed insolvency.
Provincial development finance provider Ithala is engaged in a court battle to recover R4.6 million in unpaid loans from him.
Zulu’s upheld conviction stems from the night of March 29, 2008, when his BMW X5 ran a red light on NMR Avenue, colliding with a bakkie belonging to the Soul’s Harbour Ministry Church. By his own admission, Zulu had been drinking with friends at a Musgrave restaurant that night.
Sidumisile Nonjabulo and Yvonne Dhlamini, first-year engineering students at UKZN, died on impact and several other passengers were badly injured.
Zulu consistently denied being the driver at the time of the crash.
In evaluating his appeal, Judge Koen called the accident “horrific”.
“The appellant has adopted a novel approach,” he said in his judgment. “He argues that his denial of being the driver constitutes ‘evidence’ that he was not the driver… I have absolutely no hesitation in rejecting the appellant’s version as false beyond a reasonable doubt. It was a strategy designed to mislead, but devised in an extremely amateurish manner.
“That it could ever have been thought to have any prospect of success was to insult the intelligence of the learned magistrate who, to his credit, was not fooled… the case against the appellant is overwhelming.”
Terming the sentence “entirely appropriate, if not lenient”, Judge Koen added “An aggravating factor is that the appellant has shown no remorse.”
The task of securing the initial conviction against Zulu was no easy matter. When police arrived to arrest him after he refused to hand himself over in July 2008, he attempted to commit suicide, slashing himself repeatedly with a knife and then jumping from the second-floor balcony of his luxury apartment at Durban’s Point Waterfront development.
Zulu spent a lengthy period recovering in hospital and subsequently stalled the court case by changing legal representatives and claiming ill health. In October last year police were poised to serve a warrant for his arrest after he failed to arrive for his appeal hearing in Pietermaritzburg. He was granted a stay of execution when he said he had been out of the country and ignorant of the court date.
Former city manager Michael Sutcliffe was asked by Zulu’s defence team to write a submission to be used in mitigation of sentencing at the close of his original trial in the Durban Regional Court.
While Sutcliffe said he had not seen Zulu in a long time, and was not privy to his feelings regarding the outcome of his appeal, he told the Tribune the gist of what was contained in the submission.
“I said that what happened that evening was tragic, particularly given the unnecessary loss of life. My heart reached out to the families involved in the accident and their terrible loss.
“At the same time I indicated that having known Sifiso, his mother and family since he was a teenager, I believed that, if found guilty, a corrective sentence rather than prison may be more appropriate.
“Presuming there is no further court action, he will have to accept the court’s decision and I hope that he uses the time to study and come out to make the contribution to our society that I know he is capable of.”
Ngema said she still had flashbacks of the moment her life changed forever.
“I can see that BMW speeding towards us. I shouted: ‘He’s going to hit us’ and after that I remember nothing. I have to drive past that intersection every day, and every day I suffer. My physical disability is a life sentence. We know an accident could happen to anyone, but none of us can move on because Zulu has never apologised. He feels nothing.”
Jo-Ann Downs, deputy president of the ACDP, said she was relieved that the long wait for justice by the victims’ families was nearing an end.
“They are entitled to see him pay for his actions. Like many people who followed this case, in the back of my mind I feared that he would evade justice because of his political connections. This news makes me proud again to be a South African,” she said.
However, Downs claimed the sentence was inadequate.
“There is a general tendency in SA to hand down very heavy sentences – 10, 15 or even 20 years – for white collar crimes, and yet those convicted of homicide or culpable homicide often get disproportionately light sentences.
“The reasoning is beyond me. In this case Zulu could reasonably have foreseen that if he got behind the wheel of his car in an intoxicated state, someone’s life could be lost.”
Downs added: “The political elite are giving completely the wrong example to the youth.”
Part of Zulu’s sentence is that his driver’s licence was taken away for life.