Defence Minister’s alleged animal cruelty case back in court next year

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Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise looks set to appoint defence of the legal kind as the AfriForum private prosecution unit served papers to appeal her discharge in connection with charges of animal cruelty.

A joint statement issued by the unit and the NSPCA (National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) said the papers were served in the Potchefstroom Magistrate’s Court, which previously discharged Modise on the charges relating to livestock, seemingly all pigs, mistreated in 2014 on a farm owned by Modise, who was National Assembly (NA) Speaker at the time.

The appeal will reportedly be heard in the High Court in Mmabatho, the North West Division of the High Court including Mafikeng, on 10 March next year.

The prosecuting arm of AfriForum is handling Modise’s private prosecution on behalf of the NSPCA in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act. Court papers have it the appeal is in connection with over 200 animals having to be put down due to malnutrition on her farm near the unofficial North West military capital.

“This appeal emphasises we will continue to fight for justice and utilise private prosecutions to ensure everyone is equal before the law. The private prosecution unit is convinced the principles pertaining to a discharge were incorrectly applied. We are of the opinion a strong case has been made and Modise should have the opportunity to present her side of the matter,” Andrew Leask, Chief Investigator at the unit said.

The application for appeal was brought in terms of section 310 of the Criminal Procedure Act which has it the presiding officer in the Regional Court, Magistrate Ben Mtebele, must state his case to the High Court regarding the finding he made pertaining to Modise.

“It is a travesty of justice the suffering of animals has continuously been delayed since 2014. In March 2023, when we return to court, it will be four months short of nine years of the NSPCA fight for justice. This is a clear indication of the NSPCA determination to ensure justice is served no matter how long it takes,” Marcelle Meredith of the NSPCA said.

The private prosecution unit and the NSPCA argue in the application the magistrate erred in his finding by considering evidence not part of the court record and also did not take into account relevant evidence placed before the court. This includes the Regional Court not taking into account expert witness opinions, “while attaching too much value to a lay witness opinion regarding the amount of feed available” according to the statement.

The organisations further argue the magistrate erred in finding management tasks on the farm were transferred to Modise’s “farmworkers” while she was, according to the court, in Cape Town. This finding is not based on evidence led by the prosecution and the accused denied these workers were ever employed by her. No evidence was placed before court that Modise was in Cape Town during this time. The Regional Court also did not consider that Modise’s legal team did not provide a plea explanation, nor did they put her version of events to witnesses.

“The court did not simply discharge Modise, also identifying her so-called farmworkers as culprits, even though evidence points to them having no resources to feed the animals. Our inference is the court accepts the animals were neglected and died due to a shortage of feed and water. The court relied on reasonable absence of the accused but no evidence was led to prove this. The court also did not consider the concept of culpability with reference to dolus eventualis,” according to Leask.

If the High Court appeal is successful, the case will be referred back to the Regional Court where Modise’s legal team will then have to present a defence before Magistrate Mtebele, the joint statement concludes.