From left to right are Rambau, Willemse and Lubisi.
Date: 10 November 2018 By: Andries van Zyl
What comes next for the three Limpopo lawmen who were each sentenced to lengthy prison terms after an eight-year-long court battle that saw them exhaust all possible avenues to avoid jail time?
Former senior regional magistrate Tshirufho Ronnie Rambau (58), regional court prosecutor Estene Anver Willemse (42) and attorney Tivoneleni Edmond Lubisi (38) spent their first night in jail on the evening of 25 October after being sentenced by Magistrate E K Patterson in the Regional Court in Musina.
Rambau was accused of accepting a bribe to influence a court case, while Lubisi and Willemse also faced charges relating to corruption and conspiracy to commit corruption. They were arrested after a successful police undercover operation in February 2010.
According to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), members of the police’s Counter-Intelligence Unit in Pretoria applied for and were granted authority in terms of section 252A of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 for the setting of the trap to investigate the suspicion of corrupt activities at the Musina Regional Court. This was based on information received from informers.
The authorisation was granted, and the arrest of a deep-cover agent was arranged on a charge of possession of suspected stolen property. After the arrest of the deep-cover agent, a second agent approached Lubisi to act as the deep-cover agent’s attorney. The deep-cover agent was released on bail shortly thereafter.
During the days that followed, several conversations and meetings were held between Lubisi and the two agents. They were informed that the matter could be placed before a specific magistrate (which turned out to be Rambau) and that a pre-arranged sentence could be imposed in court, against payment of a certain amount of money to all the role players.
The NPA stated that, in total, R27 000 was paid over by the agents to Lubisi. The deep-cover agent once again appeared in the Regional Court at Musina on 5 February 2010 and was convicted and sentenced to the pre-arranged sentence. Lubisi was the attorney on record, Willemse was the prosecutor and Rambau was the Regional Court magistrate. Following the court appearance of the deep-cover agent, the three accused were arrested. A sum of R8 900 of marked money was found in possession of Lubisi, R100 of marked money was found in possession of Willemse and R5 000 of marked money was found in possession of Rambau.
Following their arrest, Rambau, Lubisi and Willemse were charged with the contravention of various sections of the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act 12 of 2004 (POCA). The charges related to the corruption that took place on 5 February 2010. In addition, each was charged with being in a corrupt relationship for the period between 1 January 2008 and 5 February 2010. Lubisi faced four charges of corruption, Willemse three charges and Rambau two charges. The respective charges alleged that the accused’s corrupt activities were aimed at Rambau’s passing pre-arranged sentences.
On 28 June this year, the three were all convicted by Magistrate Patterson, with sentencing postponed to 25 October. During sentencing two weeks ago, Rambau was sentenced to 15 years each on two counts of accepting a gratification (bribe) as a judicial officer. Willemse was sentenced to 10 years for conspiring to commit corruption and 10 years each on two counts of giving a bribe to a member of the prosecuting authority. Lubisi was sentenced to 15 years each on four counts, namely contravening the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, giving a bribe to a judicial officer or alternatively conspiracy to commit corruption, and two counts of giving a bribe to a member of the prosecuting authority.
Although Rambau received a total sentence of 30 years, Willemse received 30 years and Lubisi 60 years, Magistrate Patterson ordered that all sentences should be served concurrently. This means that Rambau and Lubisi will each serve 15 years, while Willemse will serve 10 years. All three were denied leave to appeal against their sentences by Magistrate Patterson.
In the years following their arrest and leading up to their conviction, Rambau and his co-accused tried every trick in the book to have the case against them get thrown out. They brought several applications to this end, including bringing an application to have the criminal cases against them dismissed in October 2012 as they claimed that the State’s evidence and witnesses were lacking in credibility.
When this application was dismissed, Rambau himself brought an application that the presiding officer in the case, Magistrate Patterson, should withdraw from the case as “he had befriended some of the state witnesses” and that this friendship could influence the outcome of the case negatively for Rambau. This application was also dismissed and Rambau then turned to both the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeals, which also dismissed his application to have the magistrate withdraw from the case. Rambau then appealed to the Constitutional Court, which also dismissed this same application.
The question now remains, what is next for the three lawmen? As a possible course of action, the three’s only option is to petition the High Court in Polokwane to grant them leave to appeal against their sentences. Should the High Court deny them this, they may petition the Supreme Court of Appeals in Bloemfontein directly. At this stage, rumour has it that all three men are currently serving their prison terms at the Makhado Correctional Centre in Louis Trichardt.
Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.