Top lawyer Ngubane commits suicide

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Respected lawyer Edward Ngubane committed suicide at the weekend , leaving the legal fraternity “shocked and devastated”. Ngubane was secretary of the judicial commission of inquiry appointed by President Jacob Zuma in September to investigate allegations of corruption and impropriety in the 1999 arms deal.

He also handled the high-profile case of convicted drug dealer Cheryl Cwele, wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, and represented jailed businessman Sifiso Zulu at the beginning of his murder trial in 2008, The Times newspaper reports today.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge said Ngubane was found with a gunshot wound to the head at his Kloof, Durban, home on Saturday afternoon. Police were called to the scene after his neighbours heard a gunshot. When the police arrived they found him lying dead in the back of his car. A pistol was found next to his body. “A suicide note was found. It was not readable because it was drenched in blood. No foul play is suspected and an inquest docket has been opened,” said Mdunge.

Ngubane’s family could not be reached for comment.

The president of the Law Society in KwaZulu-Natal, Mxolisi Nxasana, described Ngubane’s death as shocking and painful. “We have lost a dedicated member who contributed immensely to the organisation and the law practice in general,” said Nxasana. Ngubane was managing director and founding partner of Durban-based Ngubane and Partners. He served on various boards and committees and is a former president of the Black Lawyers’ Association and co-chairman of the Law Society of SA .

Meanwhile, The Star cautions the controversial Protection of State Information Bill could render the arms deal commission toothless, sabotaging attempts to unearth the truth behind the arms contracts.

In gazetted calls for written submissions, commissioners assured anonymity of those who would provide “confidential, classified or secret” material, saying such persons could elect to use fake initials to protect their identities. The final report to be submitted to President Jacob Zuma would have the same initials used in all records, transcripts or the hearing and any reports of the commission.

But should the upper house of Parliament choose to follow the lower house and also pass the Bill later this week – commissioners will face a difficult task of gathering information that could lift a veil on the controversial arms contracts. They could themselves face jail should they obtain classified information and conceal identities of those who divulged such information.

According to the bill, which has unsettled even Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, a person who “unlawfully communicate(s), deliver(s) or make(s) available State information classified top secret”, knowing that such information would “directly or indirectly prejudice the state”, could be sentenced to up to 15 years in jail. And anyone who “harbours or conceals a person” who has contravened provisions of the bill faces a sentence of five to 10 years, the paper said.

Commission spokesman William Baloyi said yesterday he was not at liberty to discuss a bill that had not been passed, adding that when such a time arrived, the commission’s “legal advisers would look at it”.

With a budget of R40 million, the commission is expected to start sifting through documents to be submitted to it by July 30, then resume hearings from November. This will leave commissioners with only 10 months to listen to the oral submissions and submit a report. Chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, Zuma announced the commission in September last year, averting a possible embarrassing episode in which the Constitutional Court could have forced his government to establish the commission following arms deal crusader Terry Crawford-Browne’s long-standing battle to get him to investigate the contracts.

Commissioners set to work with Judge Seriti are Judge Francis Legodi and Judge Hendrick Thekiso Musi. Procurement for the venue for the hearings has not yet been finalised and justice department spokesman Tlali Tlali would not indicate why the department is seeking a venue around Pretoria when the minister had indicated the venue would be in Joburg.