The case against the accused in the murder of Isabel van Coller two years ago has been postponed to 17 January 2022 in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court to allow for the location of a co-suspect. The case will then be transferred for trial to the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg. The accused who from the video footage seems to have fired the shot and sped away in Van Coller’s car, is being tried for murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances. This follows after AfriForum’s Private Prosecution Unit intervened on behalf of Harriet Ackerman, the twin sister of Van Coller and a senior prosecutor at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), because she received no meaningful feedback from the NPA regarding any progress in the matter.
The Private Prosecution Unit made representations to Adv. Masenyani Andrew Chauke, the Director of Public Prosecutions in South Gauteng, in May this year. According to the DPP the case was initially withdrawn due to a lack of evidence. After AfriForum’s representations the NPA, however, stated that they were able to locate two of the suspects who were allegedly involved in the hijacking and that one person is now a state witness in terms of section 204 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 in the case against the alleged murderer. The other suspect is still missing.
Van Coller was shot dead on the morning of 15 November 2019 during a hijacking in Bramley, Johannesburg. Shortly thereafter, suspects were arrested with Van Coller’s cell phone in their possession. No charges were, however, instituted against these persons and Ackerman was informed that they could not be linked to the hijacking. In March 2020 the State informed Ackerman that other suspects had been arrested who made certain admissions and also that the case would be prosecuted in the high court. Thereafter, however, the NPA decided not to prosecute and a formal inquest would follow – none of these decisions or the date of the planned inquest were communicated to Ackerman. In answer to an enquiry by Ackerman, the prosecutor in the case merely stated that he could not remember the case and would have to check the office file.
The NPA also informed AfriForum earlier this year that the docket had gone missing in the magistrate’s court. The police had to reconstruct the whole docket before the suspects could finally be prosecuted.
“We welcome the prosecution of the alleged murderer, but it is regrettable that the case was initially withdrawn without any consultation with the victim’s next of kin, all the more because the victim’s sister works for the NPA. Society has the right to expect competent, rational and reasonable conduct from the NPA. The indolent conduct of the prosecutor in this case would have led to a situation where no-one would ever have been held accountable for the death of Van Coller if the Private Prosecution Unit had not become involved,” says Natasha Venter, Advisor at AfriForum’s Private Prosecution Unit.
According to Venter this is a further example where the NPA have attempted to abuse the process of inquests to evade their responsibility to prosecute by hiding behind the decisions of a magistrate. “It is clear that, from the outset, a prosecution in this case was possible and necessary.”