Man awarded millions for languishing in prison after blunder faces return to ‘hell’
He once described the hell he had experienced after simply being “forgotten” in jail for more than five years due to a bureaucratic foul-up after he was acquitted of murder.
But, finally released and with the chance to start afresh when the courts awarded him R2.5-million in damages 10 years ago, former taxi guard Jonathan Zealand today faces returning to that same hell – for killing someone.
The irony of the Gelvandale man who got a second chance when he made the government cough up for its mammoth blunder but is now likely to languish behind bars again, is summed up by the slogan on the sweater he wore in court this week: “You only live once.”
It was a poignant moment for a solemn and stony-faced Zealand, 38. The final gesture of his ailing mother – who died in hospital on Sunday – was to send R150 to her now-penniless son, who is so broke he had to apply for Legal Aid following his latest arrest.
In a story which made national headlines between 2005 and 2008, Zealand successfully sued the government after spending almost 2 000 days in jail because the justice department “forgot” to tell correctional services he had been acquitted of murder.
The correct paperwork for his release was never issued by the Grahamstown High Court. But now Zealand, whose troubles with the law started when he was just 15, has been accused of murder for a third time – and been convicted.
This, for shooting dead a man near the Gelvandale courts in 2016. Before his latest arrest, Zealand was living in squalor. His girlfriend of the past 20 years, Ashlene Linyani, who came to see him at court on Monday, said that at the time of his arrest he was living with his mother, Annette Baardman, in Helenvale.
Linyani, 38, brought her boyfriend the R150 from Baardman. “She died at Livingstone Hospital [on Sunday],” Linyani said, in tears.
“She asked the nurse to make sure he gets the money.”
In a psychologist’s report filed in the four bulky court files detailing Zealand’s history with the court, psychologist Jeremy Mostert wrote: “He [Zealand], an only child, could not cope at school.
“It disturbed him to be far from his mother.”
Zealand is also known as Jonathan Seafield and by his nickname “Japan”.
When he was finally released from St Albans Prison, he said he had been pushed out through the prison gates and told to “bugger off”.
“They didn’t explain anything. They just said I was free to go, made me pack my stuff, pushed me through the gates and told me to bugger off.
“I had nothing. A man next to the road gave me a R3.20 phone card to call my mother.
“She borrowed money to organise a bakkie to come and pick me up,otherwise I would have had to walk home.”
From August 1999 to December 2004, Zealand wrote numerous letters asking why he was still behind bars and pleading to be released.
His letters tell of growing desperation, adding in later missives that he was being set up and that even the family of his alleged victim knew he was innocent.
He claimed in jail he was compelled to join one of the notorious prison gangs, the 26s, to protect himself.
In court papers he described how, to join, he had to strike a fellow prisoner with a tin mug on the head.
To be promoted to “sergeant”, he had to stab a fellow prisoner with the sharpened ear of a tin mug. While in prison, his body became covered in tattoos – a revolver with the barrel pointing upwards on his neck, a scroll, a skull and crossbones, the head of a dragon, and the Roman numerals of his gang XXVI (26) on both arms.
In separate judgments, the Port Elizabeth High Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) and the Constitutional Court described their collective outrage at what had happened to Zealand.
In his judgment on the merits of Zealand’s civil claim against the state, delivered in 2005, acting Judge Piet van der Bijl described the case as unprecedented.
In 2006, SCA Judge Suretha Snyders described the case as “an extreme example of violation of rights and a disgrace to the administration of justice”.
It was only after legal intervention and 1 932 days in prison, that Zealand was set free.
But the Supreme Court ruled that he was only unlawfully detained for three years, and not five, because he had been awaiting trial on further charges during the first two years of his incarceration.
As part of the damages he received in 2008, the court ordered the state to pay for the removal of his tattoos.
On Monday, Judge Jannie Eksteen postponed Zealand’s latest case to January 30 for sentencing as trial judge Irma Schoeman was not available.
Schoeman convicted Zealand last year on a charge of murder for shooting Angus Jordaan on June 4 2016 in Helenvale, near the Gelvandale courts.
Despite the evidence of a witness, Zealand insisted he was not there.