Drama as bullet is taken from suspect

(Lawyer in 11th-hour bid to halt surgery)

CAPE ARGUS

BY NEXT week police should know Alfred Sizwe Gaqa’s secret – was he shot in the leg during a botched robbery that ended with the murder of a shabeen owner and his bodyguard? And the truth should be revealed by ballistic tests on the bullet removed, by order of the Cape High Court, from Gaqa’s thigh in Tygerberg Hospital yesterday. Yesterday was a day of drama, with the action switching from the hospital to the Cape High Court and back to hospital. It is believed to be the first time in the world that a bullet, regarded as crucial evidence in a police investigation, has been removed from an unwilling patient by court order. Gaqa is the prime suspect in the double murder and attempted robbery of tavern owner Mabona Boesman and his security guard Boxer Bangani on December 31 last year. Investigating Officer Ivan van den Heever discovered that one of the suspects had been shot in the robbery, and then heard Gaqa had a bullet wound. Gaqa at first claimed he had been attacked by a person wielding a screwdriver. He was arrested after his story did not hold up, and an X-ray revealed a bullet in his left thigh. Gaqa then claimed he had been shot by an acquaintance. Preliminary ballistic investigations indicated that the bullet was of a similar calibre and type to the one fired from Boesman’s gun. But the police needed the bullet to see if it linked Gaqa to the murders. Gaqa, however, refused to have it removed, and so the police went to the Cape High Court where on Tuesday they persuaded Mr Justice Siraj Desai to grant an order compelling him to surrender it. The judge said there was no medical evidence to indicate that Gaqa’s life would be endangered by the surgery, and it weighed in the police’s favour that the bullet was the only evidence that could link Gaqa to the crimes. He denied Gaqa leave to appeal against his decision, but Gaqa’s lawyers said they would petition for the right to appeal. After the order Gaqa, who is in custody, was given until 11am yesterday to agree to the procedure. At 11.08am, when he still refused to sign doctors’ consent papers, the Sheriff of the High Court was summoned to the hospital and signed on his behalf. Doctors prepared Gaqa for surgery. But then Gaqa’s attorney, Ben Mathewson [Barend Frederick Mathewson], decided to lodge an urger application in the High Court for an interdict to stop the doctors, pending a petition to the Supreme Court of Appeal for leave to appeal Judge Desai’s judgment. Doctors stopped attending to Gaqa shile his legal team rushed off to court. At the same time, the police’s lawyers applied, in terms of High Court rules, for another order to enforce Judge Desai’s ruling even if an appeal is still pending. Judge Desai allowed the application. At this point the Gaqa application fell away. After the judge handed down his order, Gaqa was wheeled into surgery.