Accused tells of ‘forced’ operation

(MURDER SUSPECT ACCUSES POLICE OF RUSHING THROUGH SURGERY TO REMOVE BULLET FROM HIS LEG AFTER LANDMARK COURT RULING)

SUNDAY TIMES

MURDER suspect Sizwe Gaqa this week described how police marched him into a hospital’s surgery in chains after a judge gave permission for a doctor to cut out a bullet lodged in his thigh. Speaking for the first time about the operation, Gaqa on Friday told the Sunday Times from a cell at the Bellville Police that he had been led into a Tygerberg surgery in fear. A part-time shoe salesman and taxi driver in Gugulethu, Cape Town, Gaqa is accused of involvement in a New Year’s Eve robbery in which ashabeen owner and hisassistant were shot dead outside a bank. Police believe one of the victims fired the bullet lodged in his thigh, but Gaza says he was shot by a “friend”, whom he has forgiven. Gaqa said he had been taken to the hospital in chains, handcuffs and leg irons at 7am on Wednesday only hours after Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai made his landmark ruling that the bullet could be removed against Gaqa’s will. At the same time, Gaqa’s lawyers were filing an urgent application for an interdict ordering police not to remove the bullet until an escort were met by “a lot of policemen who did not want me to speak to my lawyer”. In the hospital’s car park, the state’s attorney asked him to sign papers consenting to the operation but he refused, believing he still had the right to petition the Supreme Court of Appeal. “I was not happy about that… because I know that I had a right to appeal to the highest court, and they did not want to give me that chance,” he said. The consent forms were instead signed on his behalf by the sheriff of the High Court. Ben Mathewson, Gaqa’s attorney, said that he hand Jan Marais, Gaqa’s advocate, had told the police attorneys he intended to lodge an application for leave to appeal. They have continued their attempts to petition the appeal court in Bloemfontein. If they succeed, the bullet extracted from Gaqa’s leg may be deemed inadmissible as evidence in the double murder trial. Gaqa claims police deliberately rushed Wednesday’s operation to pre-ampt any appeal. He said that on the way to the surgery “police were talking a lot of things to me, they were saying that my lawyers could not stop the operation, no matter what my lawyers say”. He said he was afraid of the operation, especially as he had never undergone surgery before. “When I was there in the doctor’s room I was asked if I want to as a question. He said he asked the surgeon, “are you sure 100% that my leg is not affected by that operation, and the doctor is saying, no I am not 100% certain”. Professor Brian Warren, professor of surgery at the University of Stellenbosch, yesterday confirmed that he had removed the bullet, but said he could not comment further until authorised to do so by Tygerberg’s medical superintendent. Gaqa said he had told the doctor that he did not want him to carry out the operation, “but the doctor said to me he had instructions from the court”. The doctor had also “asked me to sign this form”, apparently a document indemnifying the hospital. With police standing by, Gaqa said, the doctor administered a general anaesthetic by inserting a syringe needle into a vein in his arm. He was not restrained and did not resist the injection, he said. A mask was placed over his face and he lost consciousness. Gaqa said when he came round he saw that his left thigh was bandaged and that police were still in the surgery. Police spokesman Wicus Holtzhausen said only a forensic detective was present during the operation but that more policemen were present before and after it “to prevent any excape attempts”. Gaqa was taken out of the hospital in a wheelchair and returned to Bellville Police Station. He estimated that he was back in his cells at around 6pm. Gaqa said: “I was angry that the police were already preparing me for surgery even before the judge made his decision.” The night before the operation, police had told him not to eat or drink so that the operation could be carried out. “My right to appeal was taken away from me,” Gaqa said.

* See Minister of Safety and Security & Another v Gaqa 2002 (1) SACR 654 (C) and Minister of Safety and Security & Another v Xaba 2003 (2) SA 703 (D).