A judge in the Western Cape High Court has found artist Zwelethu Mthethwa guilty of murdering sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo. His bail has been withdrawn and he will be sentenced on March 29, ArtThrob reports.
Kumalo was killed on the side of the road in Woodstock, a suburb of Cape Town, in April 2013. CCTV footage shows a man repeatedly kicking her and stomping on her head, including “repetitive, forceful kicking to the middle of her body, as well as slaps and fist blows directed at her head off-screen,” reports the Daily Maverick. Kumalo died from blunt force trauma, and, according to medical evidence introduced in court, “her liver was basically ‘torn in half,'” says Eyewitness News.
Although the footage is grainy, prosecutors placed Mthethwa at the scene of the crime via his car. The artist has maintained his innocence from the beginning, but did not testify in court. A psychiatrist testified that Mthethwa could not recall what happened that night, while the defense tried to establish “a pattern of [Mthethwa] being driven home in his car after a night of heavy drinking at upmarket clubs,” according to News24.
In her verdict, Judge Patricia Goliath called the CCTV footage a “silent witness” and condemned Mthethwa’s refusal to testify. She wrote that the artist’s story about memory loss, as conveyed to the psychiatrist who examined him, came well after his arrest and thus appeared “untruthful and fabricated. The accused’s version of lack of recall is therefore rejected.” She also referred to the 2014 trial of Oscar Pistorius, a famous South African runner who was convicted of killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide, which in South Africa refers to a negligent or unintended killing; Mthethwa, on the other hand, has been found guilty of murder with intent in the form of dolus eventualis, which means he foresaw that his actions might lead to Kumalo’s death but continued anyway.
A full transcript of Goliath’s ruling is available here, generously provided to Hyperallergic by ArtThrob.
Mthethwa, who is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery, has had a long and prestigious career, with solo shows around the world, including at the Studio Museum in Harlem and Hamburg Kunsthalle, and work in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Centre Pompidou, and the South African National Gallery, among others. He’s known for his stirring portrait photographs of ordinary South Africans in their homes or at work.
The murder trial draws to a close after nearly four years of setbacks, testimony, and further delays; Kumalo’s mother had previously said she’d given up on the case. Activists from the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) have maintained a persistent presence at the court, however, and were there today when the ruling was handed down.
“We are extremely encouraged by the verdict — and especially that bail was not granted pending the sentencing,” Sally Shackelton, director of SWEAT, told Hyperallergic. “We have been monitoring the case for a number of years — it’s a relief that we finally have an outcome, and that it is a positive one for sex workers.”
This story was updated with comment from SWEAT and a transcript of the ruling on March 16 at 2:48pm.