Acclaimed South African Artist Zwelethu Mthethwa Found Guilty of Murder

The guilty verdict puts an end to a protracted trial over the murder of a 23-year-old sex worker.

Members of SWEAT celebrating a bitter-sweet victory outside the courthouse delivering the verdict on March 16. Courtesy SWEAT on Facebook

Artist Zwelethu Mthethwa has been found guilty of murdering 23-year-old sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo with intent. The verdict was delivered on March 16 by judge Patricia Goliath in the Western Cape High Court, in Cape Town, South Africa.

According to ArtThrob, who reported from inside the courtroom, Mthethwa’s bail has been withdrawn. His sentencing will be delivered on March 29, 2017.

The verdict ends a lengthy trial that began two years after the battered body of Kumalo was found in the Cape Town suburb of Woodstock, in April 2013.

During the trial, the prosecution presented CCTV footage linking Mthethwa to the crime scene. The footage shows the artist’s black Porsche pulling up next to Kumalo. The driver is then seen exiting the car and attacking the young woman. According to Daily Maverick, the footage shows the man kicking her repeatedly. The woman falls down and after 23 seconds, the man appears on camera again, kicking her body and throwing “fist blows directed at her head off-screen.”

Kumalo’s body was found by a security guard about an hour after her violent death.

In a series of setbacks that saw the trial delayed for months, Times Live reported that the security guard who found Kumalo’s body had disappeared. Another state witness, who was supposed to analyze Mthethwa’s gait and compare it to that of the suspect caught on CCTV, had reportedly died.

A portrait of murder victim Nokuphila Kumalo outside the courthouse, part of SWEAT's #SayHerName campaign

A portrait of murder victim Nokuphila Kumalo outside the courthouse, part of SWEAT’s #SayHerName campaign

Despite a previous attempt by Mthethwa’s lawyer to dispute the reliability of the CCTV footage, judge Goliath accepted it as authentic evidence, and said that the CCTV acted as a “silent witness.”

She found the “State was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mthethwa committed the murder,” Eyewitness News reports.

Mthethwa did not testify during the trial, but a psychiatrist told the court that he did not have any recollection of the evening’s events, possibly due to heavy alcohol consumption.

The verdict was met with jubilation, on site and on social media channels. Outside the courthouse, activists from Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and Sonke Gender Justice were celebrating the guilty verdict.

Throughout the duration of the trial and previous hearings, the groups picketed outside the courthouse, holding banners with the slogans #SayHerName, and #Justice4Nokuphila, and demanding rights for sex workers.

Mthethwa is among South Africa’s most well-known artists. His works have been shown at important institutions around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; and at the Venice Biennale.

When sentencing proceedings begin in two weeks, he could be facing a minimum sentence of 15 years.

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