On 22 May 2018, the North West High Court discharged Marikana housing and land rights activist, Napoleon Webster. Justice Ronnie Hendricks found Webster not guilty of murdering Petrus Sabata, who was killed at Marikana on 8 December 2016. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) represented Webster during the trial.

The court discharged Webster and found him not guilty after the prosecution failed to produce any evidence that linked Webster to the death of Sabata. Prosecutors ultimately conceded that Webster was entitled to an acquittal, and accepted that the State had failed to “establish [Webster’s] involvement” in the murder. The State also accepted that the witnesses who implicated Webster had testified out of malice and lacked any credibility.

Despite there being no evidence that Webster committed any offence, he was detained in a Rustenburg prison in 2017 for over 202 days after the Rustenburg Magistrates’ Court refused his bail application. 

Throughout the bail proceedings and the trial, there was strong evidence that Webster was arrested because of his community-based activism in Marikana and not on the basis of any reasonable suspicion that he committed an offence. Webster has been an active supporter of the victims of the Marikana massacre and was a consistent presence at the proceedings of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. 

Lindokuhle Mdabe, an attorney at SERI who acted for Webster, said: “The State’s failure to produce any evidence linking Napoleon Webster to this offence is clear evidence that this prosecution was brought, not to punish crime, but to stifle legitimate dissent in Marikana. The prosecution, and the way it has been pursued, is yet another example of the abuse of the criminal justice system in aid of silencing the real and legitimate grievances of people living in poor communities across South Africa.”

  • Read SERI’s full press statement (22 May 2018) here.
  • Read more about the case and access the papers here.