“My client is a mother of two children, and we will do our best to make sure that her case is handled well and her rights are protected. As an accused person, she is still innocent until proven guilty.”
These were the words of Bonisiwe Gumede’s lawyer Tutula Nduna outside the Johannesburg magistrate’s court on Monday.
“My client is in an unstable emotional condition as she fears for her life. I am not aware if the state is providing any assistance for her mental health,” Nduna added.
The 30-year-old Gumede made a brief court appearance for a bail application. She is facing a charge of arson after she was accused of starting a fire that torched a hijacked building in Joburg’s CBD. Witnesses told the authorities she torched the building in a heated argument with her partner.
Two people died in the fire
The fire on January 21 killed two people and destroyed meagre properties of others who lived in the derelict Express Building on Nugget Street.
During proceedings, Nduna requested another chance to confirm Gumede’s address, as the cell number provided for the bail application to take place went to voicemail.
Magistrate Moalusi granted the request and postponed the case to February 14, while Gumede was remanded in custody. She also faces two counts of murder following the deaths of two people in the fire.
Residents who were upset about losing their homes and possessions in the fire and the deceased’s relatives attended the court hearing.
It’s alleged Gumede doused the door of the room she shared with her partner with petrol before setting it alight.
Sizwe Cele and his partner were reportedly sleeping in the room next door when the blaze killed them.
His uncle, Msongelo Mnisi, described the process of identifying his nephew’s body as painful, as both victims were burnt beyond recognition.
DNA swabs were taken from one of Cele’s siblings to confirm his identity before his remains were released to the family for burial.
Sunday World interviewed Uyanda Zwane from Koikanyang, the law firm representing the City of Johannesburg. She revealed that an engineer had been assigned by the city to do an assessment on the structural integrity of the building on January 22.
Zwane said: “The report found that the building was not suitable for human habitation due to the damage that was caused to the underside of the second floor.
“The city has taken steps to relocate [about] 60 to 70 people who lived in that building to a facility that the city owns in the lower CBD of Joburg.”
Crime victimises desperate people
Zwane explained that the City of Johannesburg is on a watch brief to determine the outcome of these criminal proceedings.
“The city is facing a similar incident where it has been accused of being negligent in enforcing its by-laws.
“We know very well that some of these incidents are caused by the harsh social and economic conditions the occupants of these buildings face in their daily lives.”
Zwane further noted that the crime taking place in the hijacked buildings further victimises the residents as they have no control over the criminal activities taking place in these buildings.