Date: 06 October 2018 By: Jo Robinson
The two Louis Trichardt men accused of trying to steal a municipal water pump were both acquitted on all charges last Wednesday.
Petrus Richard Duvenhage (24) and Andries Hibbert (26) were allegedly caught red-handed while attempting to steal a municipal water pump in December 2016. They were subsequently charged in terms of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act, Act 18 of 2015, in the Louis Trichardt District Court on 2 October last year.
At the time, talk was that an example might be made of the pair as this case was only the second time that the newly amended Act 18 of 2015 had been used in a criminal charge. This law is specifically targeted at dealing with increasing incidents of vandalism and theft of important infrastructure, particularly very costly infrastructure such as municipal water pumps, as well as the ongoing stealing of copper from wherever thieves can find it. Duvenhage and Hibbert were charged with conspiring to damage or destroy essential infrastructure.
On 5 December 2016, Duvenhage and Hibbert allegedly broke into the municipal pumphouse in Kort Street. Local police patrolling in the area investigated and noticed a parked vehicle nearby. On entering the pumphouse, the officers allegedly came upon Duvenhage and Hibbert in the process of cutting the cables with the supposed intention of removing the pump.
Originally charged with breaking and entering and possession of stolen goods, the decision was made to rather charge them with the newly amended law. This was not only because the damage that they allegedly sought to do would have resulted in exorbitant losses to the municipality, but also because the supply of water is an essential service. Duvenhage and Hibbert’s alleged actions therefore caused a break in this service to residents, which rendered them liable to be charged in this way.
Two police officers and two municipal officials testified in the case. The court found, however, that too many discrepancies and contradictions existed in the evidence given by the witnesses for the State. Some of the discrepancies included what the police officers had witnessed at the scene and the time they witnessed it. Subsequently, the court ruled that the case against Duvenhage and Hibbert could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt, and the two were therefore acquitted of all charges.
If Duvenhage and Hibbert had been found guilty, they could have faced sentences of a maximum of 30 years in jail or a fine of R100 million each, as well as being found unfit to possess a firearm.
The case was heard in the Louis Trichardt Regional Court.
Jo joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2018 pursuing a career in journalism after many years of writing fiction and non-fiction for other sectors.