Fears that Sizwezakhe Vumazonke may have been poisoned emerged yesterday as the suspected hitman slipped into a coma.
State advocate Marius Stander said he was waiting for the results of a toxicology report.
Vumazonke, 30, who was allegedly hired by Jayde Panayiotou’s husband, Christopher, 29, to kidnap and murder her in April last year, is under heavy police guard in the intensive care unit at Livingstone Hospital.
A source close to the investigation said they feared Vumazonke had been poisoned.
The alleged trigger man was admitted to hospital from St Albans Prison on August 25, after he said he was so ill he could barely stand.
Yesterday’s pre-trial proceedings ahead of the murder trial were postponed for the second time in the Port Elizabeth High Court due to Vumazonke’s ailing condition.
The state claims Vumazonke, Sinethemba Nemembe, 28, and Zolani Roxo, 35, were hired by Panayiotou to kidnap and murder Jayde, 29, on April 21 last year.
Defence attorney Michelle Blignaut said yesterday that Vumazonke’s legal team and family were battling to get answers from Livingstone Hospital regarding his condition.
“My client’s two sisters have now instructed me to write a letter to the hospital superintendent because no one is willing to tell us anything,” Blignaut said. “They are very worried. “We all have our suspicions, but at this stage it would not be wise to comment on the cause of his condition.”
Blignaut said CT scans had been done in addition to blood tests and that they were still waiting for the results of the toxicology report.
She said Vumazonke complained that he was feeling “fluish” when she consulted him at the prison early last month.
He was prescribed medication by a doctor at the prison hospital.
“Then . . . a few days later, his sister phoned me to tell me that his condition had deteriorated. “I was shocked when I saw him in court [on August 25],” Blignaut said.
A frail-looking Vumazonke told Judge Glenn Goosen – as pre-trial motions were scheduled to kick off in the Port Elizabeth High Court last month – that he was too ill to sit through proceedings.
Nemembe, who shares a cell with Vumazonke, confirmed that his co-accused was so weak he had to assist him to walk.
The matter was then postponed to yesterday to allow him time to recover.
However, in the lead up to yesterday, Vumazonke’s speech began to deteriorate and he ultimately slipped into a coma.
Stander asked that proceedings be postponed to September 15. Vumazonke’s family, who were absent from court yesterday, declined to comment at this stage.
Correctional Services spokesman Zama Feni said Vumazonke displayed no signs of illness when he left St Albans for court on August 25.
Panayiotou, Nemembe and Sibeko are all in custody. Jayde’s body was discovered in an abandoned field near KwaNobuhle in Uitenhage a day after her disappearance.
Family and friends of Panayiotou and Jayde, a teacher at Riebeek College in Uitenhage, filled the gallery yesterday
An aunt of Panayiotou’s used her cellphone to snap photographs of the journalists, who in turn took photographs of the accused.
The trial has been set down for between October 10 and December 2.