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A Common Purpose the Story of the Upington 25.

In the early morning of November 13 1985, a murder took place in
the black township of Paballelo on the outskirts of Upington in South
Africa's Northern State province. The murder victim was Lucas
Tshenolo 'Jetta' Sethwala, a municipal policeman who was
beaten to death and his body burned.

It seems that Sethwala had fired a shot from his house into a crowd
that had gathered outside his home, seriously injuring a young boy,
Dawid Visagie. When Sethwala attempted to flee his home he was caught,
pulled to the ground, struck twice on his head with his own rifle,
kicked, stoned and his body set alight with petrol.

On the basis of eye-witnesses and identification parades, the South

African police accused 25 black citizens of the murder, from teenage
boys to an elderly couple. Each of the accused was charged with murder
on the basis of 'common purpose'. After a two year trial, the
Upington 25 were convicted of murder and a year later 14 of them were
sentenced to death.

The author, Andrea Durbach, was a member of the legal team that
took on the case of the Upington 25 following their conviction. As they
had not represented the accused during the original trial, they had the

daunting task, in a few short weeks, to sort through thousands of court

documents, interview the imprisoned, take additional statements, find
expert witnesses and research judicial precedent to be able to mount an
effective appeal.


There were also certain ironies during this macabre legal dance.
Political developments within the country threw up a huge dilemma for
the defence team. The Pretoria Minute, negotiated between the ANC and
the South African government had included a provision that the ANC would
suspend the armed struggle. It also allowed for submissions to be made
for the indemnity or release of prisoners convicted of a political

In bringing a charge against the Upington 25, the state had argued
that the murder of Sethwala was not a 'spontaneous isolated
outburst' but an orchestrated incident linked to a plan aimed at
making the country ungovernable. Now the defence team was faced with a
choice-they could continue to argue that the murder of Sethwala was
spontaneous, or make the counter argument and apply for indemnity on the
basis of the murder being a political act. Their decision was to do both
and compromise neither.

Even if the legal team was ultimately successful in saving the 14

from Death Row, there is little note of triumphalism in Durbach's