South African Photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa Accused of Murdering Sex Worker Goes To Trial
Mthethwa is accused of bludgeoning a 23-year-old sex worker to death.
After two years of delays, the murder trial of South African star photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa began in Cape Town last week, Africa News Agency reports.
Mthethwa stands accused of brutally beating and kicking 23-year-old sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo to death in April 2013, on a street in the Cape Town suburb of Woodstock. He has pleaded not guilty.
Mthethwa was identified after CCTV footage led police investigators to trace his car. The murder was also reportedly seen by an eyewitness. The photographer has always denied the murder and maintains his innocence.
State prosecutor Christenus van der Vijer is building his case around the CCTV footage and the testimony of a forensic expert, who will analyze the gait of the suspect in the footage and compare it with that of Mthethwa.
The trial, however, is facing a series of setbacks. According to Times Live, van der Vijer informed the Cape Town High Court last week that the security guard who found Kumalo’s body had disappeared. Another state witness, who was supposed to testify about Mthethwa’s gait, has reportedly died.
Meanwhile, Mthethwa’s lawyer, William Booth, is disputing the reliability of the CCTV footage.
The case has polarized South Africa, whose judicial system is once again being subjected to intense scrutiny, following the furore that surrounded the murder trial of Paralympic star athlete Oscar Pistorius, which began in February 2013.
As with previous hearings, protesters from advocacy groups, like the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), and the women’s rights group Sonke Gender Justice have mounted demonstrations outside the courthouse to demand rights for sex workers and justice for Kumalo.
“Sex workers are marginalized, treated as second-class citizens, and subjected to high levels of stigma and discrimination even at the level of law enforcement,” Cherith Sanger, advocacy manager of SWEAT, told the Daily Maverick.
Mthethwa’s candid large-scale photographs of working-class South Africans earned him international acclaim. His works have been shown at several important museums and institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; and the Venice Biennale (see Baltimore Museum of Art Receives Major Photo Donation).
If Mthethwa is found guilty, he faces a minimum sentence of 15 years.
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