ON the day Njabulo Ndlovu walked out of Westville Prison, the only thing on his mind was tucking into a home cooked meal prepared by his mother and a warm bed.
But not before saying a small prayer and thanking the Almighty for his release on Monday.
Ndlovu, 35, was wrongly convicted of rape and was forced to endure prison life for 13 years until his innocence was eventually confirmed in court last week.
When Ndlovu arrived at his home in Umlazi’s J-Section, to his surprise a welcome home celebration had been planned and drew relatives and friends who he’d not interacted with in a long while.
“Walking out from that place (Westville Prison) made me feel like I was born again,” Ndlovu said.
A full bench of Judges at the Pietermaritzburg High Court overturned his rape conviction and sentence last week.
He was among the men accused of gang raping a pregnant woman in 2002.
Ndlovu was a student at the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Westville campus at the time. Through the ensuing trial, Ndlovu maintained his innocence.
Judge Rashid Vahed who delivered last week’s judgment said DNA evidence had not linked Ndlovu to the crime and raised concerns about the conduct of magistrate Mike Lasich, who convicted him.
On his arrival at his Umlazi home, Ndlovu said the smell of braai meat had him drooling even before he could get out of the car.
“Family and friends came out in numbers to welcome me. Everyone wanted to find out how I coped all those years in prison. They showed me love. We feasted on braai meat and pap, something I have been longing for for years.
“I’m looking forward to more of my mom’s delicious home cooked meals like Jeqe (steam bread) and sugar beans, it’s my favourite,” he said.
While being back home was a joyous occasion, there was a time when his emotions got the better of him. His brother Siyabonga who he shared a close bond with and was his biggest supporter during his trial, was not a part of the celebrations.
“Siyabonga died in a car accident in 2016 and a year later his wife died, leaving behind their only child. He was always there for me and checked up on me regularly,” said Ndlovu.
The death of Siyabonga and Ndlovu’s imprisonment made his parents Mbuso and Makhosazane feel as if they had no children.
“I felt lonely and miserable. Whenever I walked on the streets, I could sense people pitied me. Those were very difficult days for me and my family,” said his mother, Makhosazane.
Ndlovu said he never lost hope.
“I always knew the truth would eventually emerge. Being in prison was tough but I knew I had to survive. Worst of all was the effect it had on my parents. I am grateful that they never gave up on me,” said Ndlovu, who achieved a law degree from Unisa in prison. “There was a time when I hated the law profession especially when I thought how it failed me. My passion for law was driven by my father’s unfair retrenchment from work. I wanted to fight against injustices and make a difference in society,” he said.
Ndlovu intends to sue the state for his wrongful arrest.