Alibi, Ep 8: SA podcast concludes with finding a lawyer to help, a cop to tell his story and a prison warder to argue for our guy’s innocence

The podcast and radio series Alibi over eight weeks has investigated whether one man, Anthony de Vries, is innocent of his crimes, a double murder and robbery at a Checkers supermarket in Vereeniging in 1994. The start of the episode sees us trying to push for legal representation for Anthony… and ends with finding one of his old friends. By PAUL McNALLY.

Thulani Nkosi, the interminably overworked advocate and lecturer from the Wits Law Clinic, takes a certain level of persuasion to take on Anthony’s case. There is a queue of clients behind me waiting to be seen. Eventually, he relents, with a smile. He leaps up and shakes my hand.

“What is one more?” he says. What is one more to add to the stream of clients needing legal help? I want Nkosi to assist with Anthony’s parole. Our guy is representing himself and though he is clued up with regards to the law, he has also made plenty of enemies over the years.

Listeners to Alibi, the podcast and radio show, over the past eight weeks have told me, almost as a threat, that they hope the ending won’t disappoint. And the underlying tickle is that a 100% lack of disappointment means that Anthony is without a doubt innocent. If he was 100% guilty then why did we spend this time on this story? And if we are in any way unsure of his innocence… then why did we spend time on this story?

The tension of this type of journalism is that even though the idea of the person in question being innocent or guilty is meant to be floating throughout, the enriching crescendo, for some, only materialises if he is innocent. The vague idea that we have all learnt valuable lessons about the law along the way doesn’t fly when people have spent four hours listening and want conclusive answers.

These expectations are flattering – it means people are engaged and truly involved in the story. But, there is another tension when offering a conclusion: personal bias. The legal parameters of someone being deprived of their access to justice, having poor legal representation or being sentenced harshly through common purpose, are not as satisfying as flat-out saying a man is innocent and has been in jail for most of his life, Shawshank Redemption-style. While investigating Anthony’s case I have learnt that you can’t trust your personal impressions of the one convicted, mainly because they are no longer the same person: the man who was photographed when arrested and who could have performed those crimes is not speaking to you today. I don’t want to be as rash as to say they have been “rehabilitated”, but a life in prison changed Anthony, buried his earlier self so I couldn’t, even if I’d spent years with him, distinguish his true, former character.

I believe that the BMW Anthony was meant to have been driving was not involved in the murder of the security guards. I believe, given the evidence uncovered in this investigation, that Anthony was in no way involved in the murder and robbery for which he was convicted. I believe he was tortured by the cops and statements were adjusted to incriminate him and convict him of multiple crimes because there was a lack of alternative living, breathing suspects. I believe there was a remarkable relationship between Anthony and the investigating officer that involved torture and horror – one which muddies the case almost on arrival.

However, what makes the case difficult, and narratively intoxicating, is when you ponder what Anthony was truly doing on that day of his arrest. Was he on the way to a job interview or do you believe he was capable of criminality – was he part of the trio driving around heavily armed in the dark blue BMW and therefore would he have landed in jail eventually? From a legal perspective this is an incredibly important miscarriage of justice. Anecdotally, people I have spoken to are often unsympathetic to Anthony having gone to jail. They believe he was the driver and essentially a mid-90s scallywag. There was no job interview, they say. Though, I would argue, even if that was the case he shouldn’t have gone to jail for killing two security guards. There is strong evidence for that. This shrug response I receive is important and I don’t condemn it – none of us want criminals on the streets. But the evidence is important: the ambiguity around the injuries, the fluidity of the statements given by police officers and how nothing conclusively linked him to the murder scene – we have a man who should have walked. How you believe he would have spent the intervening years if not in prison is a debate worth having, but separate from one involving the importance of a functioning justice system and robust accountability.

In this episode, the final of this first season of Alibi, you will see what happens to Anthony, where he ends up and how those around him respond to the conclusion of his story. DM

Alibi is broadcast weekly on SAFM at 2.30pm on Sundays.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Listen on Soundcloud

Visit www.alibi.org.za for more notes and info on the case.

Alibi is produced by Paul McNally, Wits Justice Project, The Wits Radio Academy and as part of Citizen Justice Network. It is presented by Freddy Mabitsela and Paul McNally.

Paul McNally is an award-winning journalist living in Johannesburg. He was a Knight Visiting Nieman Fellow in 2016 at Harvard University. He is the author of the nonfiction book The Street: Exposing a World of Cops, Bribes and Drug Dealers and is the Founding Director of Citizen Justice Network, a project based at Wits University that trains community paralegals to be radio journalists.

Alibi, Ep7: SA podcast probes why a man was given terrible legal help and whether his co-accused suffered the same fate

In episode 7 of Alibi, the podcast and radio series that is investigating a single criminal case over eight weeks, we finally track down where Anthony de Vries’s co-accused have been all these years … and what we discover makes it more astounding that our guy was ever convicted. By PAUL McNALLY.

Anthony de Vries was convicted of a double murder and robbery in the 1990s and we are investigating whether he is guilty or innocent of the crimes, as he has always claimed. The names of his co-accused were Steven Mkwanazi and Calvin Collins. Since the start of the investigation, Anthony has maintained that he only met his co-accused on the day of the arrest. This was on a patch of field beside a car crash where the police collected and photographed their suspects.

The crash was between a BMW and a truck. Anthony was meant to have been the driver of the BMW (according to the state), but he has insisted for years that he first saw the dark blue sedan only when he was told by the cops to stand next to it. This is the photo that we have of Anthony where he is painted red with blood – it was taken at the same time as those of the three co-accused – though there is no blood on Steven and Calvin. They look like they are in their mid-20s and are standing on a grass bank on a beautiful, sunny March afternoon.

In Anthony’s bail application in 1994 Warrant Officer Jacques Marais said that after interviewing the suspects he determined that the co-accused all knew each other. This assumption by Marais that Anthony knew his co-accused was brought up at trial and this idea that they hadn’t just been randomly picked up by cops strengthened the idea of them being a gang.

Anthony said from Boksburg Correctional Centre, when I interviewed him over the phone, “No, we didn’t know each other. We started knowing each other… where we started knowing each other was while we were together awaiting trial.”

When you are awaiting trial the facilities are often over-crowded and poorly regulated. Anthony was in there for five months.

However, crucially, in Constable Derek Wayne Gibson and Warrant Officer Francois Willem Riekart’s lost statements – the ones taken at the arrest stage, but which were lost when it came to trial – contradicted Marais and said they heard the two co-accused introduce themselves to Anthony.

Anthony was arrested away from the scene, but his co-accused, according to the police, were arrested coming straight out of the BMW, so the strength of their connection to Anthony is crucial to the case.

The three of them were arrested, allegedly tortured, spent months in prison awaiting trial and were then offered bail. Bail was set at R7,000 for Anthony – a lot for man earning R2,000 a month as a panelbeater in Ennerdale. When Anthony received bail he thought nothing was going to materialise from the case. He went back to his normal life. It took three years for the case to go to trial.

Anthony was eventually convicted under the law of common purpose which makes his co-accused more important. According to the law of common purpose, if you are an active member of a group and a person in your group commits a crime, such as a murder, then you are liable for that crime. In an apartheid context it allowed people to be imprisoned for being part of a protest or a gathering. So, if you commit a robbery with someone and they kill a cashier, then you could be convicted for the murder even though you did not directly kill the person. This is how Anthony was able to go to jail for double murder, double attempted murder and robbery when the judge only connected him to being the driver of the BMW.

We know that Anthony was the only one convicted of these crimes, despite there being strong evidence stacked against his co-accused. In this episode we find out what happened to Steven and Calvin and how their fate tangled Anthony’s case; we explore Anthony’s legal representation and find an upstanding man of the law who believes our guy failed to gain access to justice and we see if there is a chance of Anthony getting a lawyer to help him, finally, with his parole. DM

Alibi is broadcast weekly on SAFM at 2.30pm on Sundays.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Listen on Soundcloud

Visit www.alibi.org.za for more notes and info on the case.

Alibi is produced by Paul McNally, Wits Justice Project, The Wits Radio Academy and as part of Citizen Justice Network. It is presented by Freddy Mabitsela and Paul McNally.

Paul McNally is an award-winning journalist living in Johannesburg. He was a Knight Visiting Nieman Fellow in 2016 at Harvard University. He is the author of the nonfiction book The Street: Exposing a World of Cops, Bribes and Drug Dealers and is the Founding Director of Citizen Justice Network, a project based at Wits University that trains community paralegals to be radio journalists.

Alibi, Ep 6: SA podcast goes to court and asks if a ‘bullet graze’ injury has to involve a gun or a bullet

Alibi, the podcast and radio series, investigates over eight weeks whether one man, Anthony de Vries, is guilty or innocent of the crimes that put him in prison. In the sixth episode we are put into a spiral as we try to understand an injury from over 20 years ago. What we discover reframes the extent that evidence can be manipulated… and how paperwork, even from doctors, can lie. By PAUL McNALLY.

The South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg is a proud, ornate building. I went there in the hope of seeing Anthony de Vries face-to-face. He was experiencing alienating problems with his parole paperwork and had resorted to taking the head of prison to court for contempt. Anthony’s hope was that this threat would shake out a reaction and put his parole in motion. I was six episodes deep into investigating whether Anthony de Vries was guilty or innocent of a double murder and robbery from 1994.

I couldn’t find Anthony’s name on any of the court rolls. I was conflicted about seeing Anthony at this stage in the investigation. I edged right up to Anthony being the victim of abuse, which was clear in the last episode, and I don’t want to remove that. But we also found evidence of him having a “bullet graze” and this brought everything into doubt. However, I wanted to know if this “bullet graze” had been caused by something other than a bullet.

Outside the court to my left I saw Selwyn, Anthony’s brother, in his wheelchair in the sun. He was talking to a man I couldn’t quite see. So I walked over to Selwyn and shook his hand. Initially, I thought this man with the folder of papers that Selwyn was talking to must have been Anthony’s lawyer. He was a man with short black hair and a thin moustache with a couple of grey strands hooked over the upper lip. I imagined that Anthony was already on his way back to his cell at Boksberg Correctional Centre. The man with the folder said that the hearing for the contempt of court charge had been postponed for a few days.

I looked down suddenly and saw that the man who I thought was Anthony’s lawyer had silver shackles on his ankles. This was Anthony. His tie and suit were a mesh of green and yellow with a black crisscrossing pattern. The jacket was slightly big on him. There were lines around his eyes and a paleness to his face from the lack of sun. He had a calm, otherworldly disposition. I overlaid the sight of Anthony in his green and yellow suit on the streets of Johannesburg with the image I already had of him in my mind as a young man in Vereeniging covered in blood. This image felt particularly grotesque, because I couldn’t help but question where the blood had come from: a smack with a bottle, as Anthony had described it in his alibi, or a bullet from a police officer?

We chatted for a few minutes – mostly we talked about his parole, but all the while I was thinking about the “bullet graze” – and then Anthony said suddenly that his transport had arrived. The DCS official next to him stood up. The second official behind him slid forward and Anthony bent down to hug Selwyn in his wheelchair.

I watched the van take Anthony back to Boksberg Correctional Centre and I thought: I missed my chance. I wanted to confront him about the “bullet graze”, and I choked.

What happens through the rest of this sixth episode while trying to unravel the “bullet graze” mystery leads me to trauma specialists, lawyers, back to Moremi (the private investigator from Daveyton featured in episode 5) and finally to confronting Anthony himself. The result gives us a whole new perspective on Anthony’s case and a shocking revelation around how evidence in general can be grossly misinterpreted. DM

Alibi is broadcast weekly on SAFM at 2.30pm on Sundays.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Listen on Soundcloud

Visit www.alibi.org.za for more notes and info on the case.

Alibi is produced by Paul McNally, Wits Justice Project, The Wits Radio Academy and as part of Citizen Justice Network. It is presented by Freddy Mabitsela and Paul McNally.

Paul McNally is an award-winning journalist living in Johannesburg. He was a Knight Visiting Nieman Fellow in 2016 at Harvard University. He is the author of the non-fiction book The Street: Exposing a World of Cops, Bribes and Drug Dealers and is the Founding Director of Citizen Justice Network, a project based at Wits University that trains community paralegals to be radio journalists.

Alibi, Ep 5: A deep look at how a man was tortured… to figure out if he was innocent of murder

In the fifth episode of the podcast series Alibi we get closer to discovering if Anthony de Vries is guilty or innocent of the crimes that put him in jail for most of his life. It involves focusing on the injuries from when he was tortured – they hold the important secrets. By PAUL McNALLY.

The South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg is a proud, ornate building. I went there in the hope of seeing Anthony de Vries face-to-face. He was experiencing alienating problems with his parole paperwork and had resorted to taking the head of prison to court for contempt. Anthony’s hope was that this threat would shake out a reaction and put his parole in motion. I was six episodes deep into investigating whether Anthony de Vries was guilty or innocent of a double murder and robbery from 1994.

I couldn’t find Anthony’s name on any of the court rolls. I was conflicted about seeing Anthony at this stage in the investigation. I edged right up to Anthony being the victim of abuse, which was clear in the last episode, and I don’t want to remove that. But we also found evidence of him having a “bullet graze” and this brought everything into doubt. However, I wanted to know if this “bullet graze” had been caused by something other than a bullet.

Outside the court to my left I saw Selwyn, Anthony’s brother, in his wheelchair in the sun. He was talking to a man I couldn’t quite see. So I walked over to Selwyn and shook his hand. Initially, I thought this man with the folder of papers that Selwyn was talking to must have been Anthony’s lawyer. He was a man with short black hair and a thin moustache with a couple of grey strands hooked over the upper lip. I imagined that Anthony was already on his way back to his cell at Boksberg Correctional Centre. The man with the folder said that the hearing for the contempt of court charge had been postponed for a few days.

I looked down suddenly and saw that the man who I thought was Anthony’s lawyer had silver shackles on his ankles. This was Anthony. His tie and suit were a mesh of green and yellow with a black crisscrossing pattern. The jacket was slightly big on him. There were lines around his eyes and a paleness to his face from the lack of sun. He had a calm, otherworldly disposition. I overlaid the sight of Anthony in his green and yellow suit on the streets of Johannesburg with the image I already had of him in my mind as a young man in Vereeniging covered in blood. This image felt particularly grotesque, because I couldn’t help but question where the blood had come from: a smack with a bottle, as Anthony had described it in his alibi, or a bullet from a police officer?

We chatted for a few minutes – mostly we talked about his parole, but all the while I was thinking about the “bullet graze” – and then Anthony said suddenly that his transport had arrived. The DCS official next to him stood up. The second official behind him slid forward and Anthony bent down to hug Selwyn in his wheelchair.

I watched the van take Anthony back to Boksberg Correctional Centre and I thought: I missed my chance. I wanted to confront him about the “bullet graze”, and I choked.

What happens through the rest of this sixth episode while trying to unravel the “bullet graze” mystery leads me to trauma specialists, lawyers, back to Moremi (the private investigator from Daveyton featured in episode 5) and finally to confronting Anthony himself. The result gives us a whole new perspective on Anthony’s case and a shocking revelation around how evidence in general can be grossly misinterpreted. DM

Alibi is broadcast weekly on SAFM at 2.30pm on Sundays.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Listen on Soundcloud

Visit www.alibi.org.za for more notes and info on the case.

Alibi is produced by Paul McNally, Wits Justice Project, The Wits Radio Academy and as part of Citizen Justice Network. It is presented by Freddy Mabitsela and Paul McNally.

Paul McNally is an award-winning journalist living in Johannesburg. He was a Knight Visiting Nieman Fellow in 2016 at Harvard University. He is the author of the non-fiction book The Street: Exposing a World of Cops, Bribes and Drug Dealers and is the Founding Director of Citizen Justice Network, a project based at Wits University that trains community paralegals to be radio journalists.

Episode Four: SA’s ‘Serial’ podcast goes on an AK-47-fuelled car chase with the cops and makes a discovery that changes the case completely

Read the article where is appeared on The Daily Maverick.

In Episode 4 of the Alibi podcast series we spend a morning in a Wimpy eating bacon and eggs, witness a man shoot an AK-47 from a moving car back at the cops and find a second set of statements, ones that never made it to trial, that give us a completely different picture of the case. By PAUL McNALLY.

I sit in the Wimpy with the paperwork for the case spread out on the table. There are photos next to the napkins – they are of corpses and crashed motor vehicles. Families are here at the Wimpy in Vereeniging for a midweek treat and meanwhile I am trying to orientate myself to the key locations of our murder, robbery, car chase story.

From where I’m sitting I can look out on the exact spot where one of the security guards was shot down dead. The case I am looking into, over eight weeks for the podcast and radio series Alibi, is of the double murder and robbery that happened here in 1994 at the Checkers shopping centre, which the Wimpy is part of. The only man who was convicted of the crimes is Anthony de Vries and when I met him in 2015 he had served 17 years in prison and had always insisted that he was innocent. I am exploring whether Anthony is guilty or if he was a victim of a wrongful conviction (the first three episodes are available for listening to on soundcloud and download on iTunes) and in the fourth episode I am at the Wimpy to explore the car chase between a BMW and the police that occurred near the Checkers on the day of the robbery.

My Wimpy waitress brings me my very welcome plate of bacon and eggs. Her hair is pulled up high on her head and she is wearing heavy black make-up. Her eye catches a particularly gruesome photo from the case and she says she’s intrigued. I tell her the details of the case and we chat about what it is like to live in the area. With gusto the waitress goes to fetch me a map so she can point out the intersection where the car chase started. Anthony, according to the state, was driving the BMW as a getaway vehicle to the robbery.

While the BMW was being chased, at high speed, a man manoeuvred himself out of the passenger side of the car. He was holding an AK47 as he climbed out and proceeded to shoot back at the police. These shots at the cop car were how Anthony picked up his two attempted murder convictions (though he couldn’t possibly have been driving the BMW and also be a passenger shooting backwards out of a different window at the same time).

The Wimpy waitress tells me the intersection isn’t too far and that I can actually walk there.

What I discover, as I visit the physical sites associated with the case, firmly swings me back to believing Anthony is innocent. I find out there are two conflicting sets of statements from Anthony’s case, written by the same people but just years apart. One set was written when he was arrested and the other when he was at trial. I can’t stress how different these versions are in the details, especially with how they talk about Anthony. The important part is that these contradictions in the statements never came up at trial; the original set was lost and only found years later.

I pay my bill at the Wimpy, thank the waitress and promise to keep her updated. After visiting the intersection where the car chase took place I track down the man who found the original set of statements. He is an incredible character and how he came across them is an amazing display of chance. And finally I get a hint of who was the internal investigator on the case (so a person who looks at the abuse and wrongdoing of police officers). Together these sources help us truly fill in what happened on that day of the murder and robbery in 1994 – and it is shocking the evidence that emerges that points in Anthony’s favour. DM

Alibi is broadcast weekly on SAFM at 2.30pm on Sundays.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Listen on Soundcloud

Visit www.alibi.org.za for more notes and info on the case.

Alibi is produced by Paul McNally, Wits Justice Project, The Wits Radio Academy and as part of Citizen Justice Network. It is presented by Freddy Mabitsela and Paul McNally.

Paul McNally is an award-winning journalist living in Johannesburg. He was a Knight Visiting Nieman Fellow in 2016 at Harvard University. He is the author of the non-fiction book The Street: Exposing a World of Cops, Bribes and Drug Dealers and is the Founding Director of Citizen Justice Network, a project based at Wits University that trains community paralegals to be radio journalists.

South African ‘Serial’ podcast – we visit the supermarket and stand exactly where the two victims were murdered (Episode 3)

Read this article where is appeared: on The Daily Maverick.

The third episode of “Alibi”, the radio series and podcast which investigates a single criminal case over eight weeks, goes down to Vereeniging to visit the scene of the crime. The crime, an early morning cash-in-transit robbery at a Checkers supermarket, resulted in the murder of two security guards. “Alibi” tackles the question: Is Anthony de Vries innocent, as he claims, or guilty of these crimes for which he was convicted in 1998? By PAUL McNALLY.

More than 20 years have passed since two security guards were shot and killed outside a video store at the Checkers Hyper Arcon Park Shopping Centre in Vereeniging, but little has changed.

The Video Check in the grainy crime scene photographs is now a fish and chip shop while modern-day security guards and their new protocols would make the 1994 ambush that happened with AK-47s a bit harder to orchestrate.

When I was first put in contact with Anthony in 2015 he had served 17 years and appealed to me in investigate his case as a possible wrongful conviction.

This investigation has taken me to the Checkers robbery and murder scene to look for traces of evidence that Anthony had been there in 1994. The crime happened in broad daylight surrounded by witnesses doing their weekly shop.

The shoot-out happened in front of the video store, piercing the glass beside posters for Sylvester Stallone’s dodgy mid-nineties movie Cliffhanger. The clerk working that day at Video Check had to duck down behind the counter as the shots were fired. The owner, for years afterwards, used posters for each month’s new releases to cover up the bullet holes so they were concealed from customers.

In the third episode of Alibi we interrogate what bystanders really saw on the day of the murders (the first two episodes are still on soundcloud and iTunes for you to catch up). And this is the curious truth behind the series: we have a man burdened with the sole conviction for a crime that could only be possible if helmed by a gang and we were struggling to find evidence of him being anywhere near the scene of the crime. DM

Alibi is broadcast weekly on SAFM at 2.30pm on Sundays.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Listen on Soundcloud

Visit www.alibi.org.za for more notes and info on the case.

Alibi is produced by Paul McNally, Wits Justice Project, The Wits Radio Academy and as part of Citizen Justice Network. It is presented by Freddy Mabitsela and Paul McNally.

Paul McNally is an award-winning journalist living in Johannesburg. He was a Knight Visiting Nieman Fellow in 2016 at Harvard University. He is the author of the non-fiction book The Street: Exposing a World of Cops, Bribes and Drug Dealers and is the Founding Director of Citizen Justice Network, a project based at Wits University that trains community paralegals to be radio journalists.

South African ‘Serial’ podcast continues – with a panga fight, a paralysing shootout and talk of a movie

The second episode of the eight-part podcast series, Alibi, which explores whether double murder, double attempted murder and robbery convict Anthony De Vries is innocent as he claims or guilty as the state found, starts as the search for Anthony’s paperwork, but evolves into a tender exploration of torture and movie stardom. By PAUL McNALLY.

Read the original article on The Daily Maverick here.

I discovered the case of Anthony De Vries in early 2015. Since then I have pulled apart each section of the case, trying to figure out if Anthony was innocent or guilty. My investigations led me to Ennerdale, where Anthony grew up, to visit his brother Selwyn.

Ennerdale is a pleasant facebrick suburb with wide streets and the odd bicycle. When I start talking to Selwyn he is incredibly candid and engaging. He is muscular, ex-army and navigates his wheelchair nimbly. He tells me the occasions of when he was tortured by the police during apartheid in graphic detail. He tells me how he lost the use of his legs during a shootout with the police and wanted to die while at the hospital under police guard by orchestrating a bloodbath. He begged his younger brother Anthony (the man whose case we are investigating) to bring him a gun so he could shoot his way into suicidal oblivion.

Despite the wrath of Selwyn, our man Anthony refused. This warms me to Anthony considerably – the thought of defying his older brother in order to save his life feels like an incredible act of courage. Now, years later, Selwyn has a wife and baby – during our discussion you can hear happy gurgles in the background as a bath is prepared for the little kid.

We dig through Anthony’s paperwork: court records and photos. Selwyn shows me one where Anthony has just been arrested: he is bright red and completely covered in blood. It is a stunning image – the mid-’90s sun caking the blood into his well-kept, black curls. The level of violence and blood is escalating on this case week on week.

To lighten the mood I tell Selwyn that I heard he has a history of being “political”, that the reason why he was on the run from the police was that he had been fighting apartheid. Anthony told me he was very proud of his older brother for his political leanings. Selwyn had made an enemy of the police, I’d been told, for being an activist. This was Anthony’s parting message to me.

Selwyn stares at me for a second. Then he laughs – a rough, mocking sound mixed with louder sounds of squeaking from his wheelchair. A large part of building a longform investigative series is trusting your subjects, Anthony included. The close relationship I so coveted before I started had begun to take root between Anthony and me and the possibility of betrayal was lurking as Selwyn laughed in my face. This detail around Selwyn’s character and why he was in trouble with the police, punctuated by that grating chuckle, blows up the second episode of Alibi and propels the series in a completely unexpected direction.

Selwyn tells me – as I leave with armfuls of paperwork – that I should think about making a movie of his life. We laugh at the notion, but it’s what I was considering as well. DM

Alibi is an eight-part podcast and radio series.

The show is broadcast weekly on SAFM at 14:30 on Sundays.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Listen on Soundcloud

Visit www.alibi.org.za for more notes and info on the case.

Alibi is produced by Paul McNally, Wits Justice Project, The Wits Radio Academy and as part of Citizen Justice Network. It is presented by Freddy Mabitsela and Paul McNally.

Paul McNally is an award-winning journalist living in Johannesburg. He was a Knight Visiting Nieman Fellow in 2016 at Harvard University. He is the author of the non-fiction book The Street: Exposing a World of Cops, Bribes and Drug Dealers and is the Founding Director of Citizen Justice Network, a project based at Wits University that trains community paralegals to be radio journalists.

South African ‘Serial’ podcast starts with a bloody ‘90s heist and ramps up from there

The year is 1994, a few weeks before South Africa’s first democratic election, and two security guards are murdered at a Checkers supermarket. One man is convicted, Anthony De Vries, and after 17 years in prison he still claims to be innocent. An eight-part podcast called Alibi will explore if Anthony is guilty or innocent. As the story unfolds you’ll discover car chases with the cops, bullets buried in video shops and a wheelchair-bound, incredibly friendly bank robber. By Paul McNALLY.

See the original story on The Daily Maverick here.

When I first spoke to Anthony de Vries two years ago over the phone he was in Boksburg Correctional Centre and I was oblivious to the details of his case, only that he had been there almost two decades and was insistent that he shouldn’t have been put there. We spoke at length that first day. I was sitting cramped in my car outside my flat taking notes in the near dark. He had been convicted of two murders, two counts of attempted murder and robbery. His defence for being covered in blood when arrested was that he had been mugged while on his way to a job interview. This sounded fabricated. He strained to add (repeatedly) that his conviction had been the result of the police having a grudge against him.

I hung up. My girlfriend and I went for a Shawarma in Norwood. People (who I had reasons to trust) had sworn to Anthony’s innocence. But I wasn’t convinced. I figured that I needed to keep looking for a better case.

I was asked recently by a man on Facebook called Steve: “So this is like ‘Serial’?” (referring to the podcast crime series by This American Life).

My reply: “Yep. But with South African levels of crime and violence.”

Steve: “Sounds good.” He’d probably be less enthused if he’d actually spent hours with the photos from the appeal papers as I have – the one murdered guard was laid out dead on the floor in his white underpants to be photographed. The blood from when he was shot in the face had dyed his bushy beard red.

As a member of Wits Justice Project and The Wits Radio Academy the incentive to create “a Serial copy, only local” in early 2015 was overwhelming. Podcasts were ubiquitous in conversation (if not in download numbers), and there was a sense that South Africa had crime, the internet and a growing number of iPhones and so should certainly get its own ‘Serial’. Added to that: I had personally been recording a variety of radio pieces since moving to Johannesburg (for Justice Project and The Academy’s The Science Inside) and wanted to be involved in radio documentary in any way possible.

The trouble was the grip of Serial wasn’t exclusively the case, but the narrator Sarah Koenig’s relationship to her case study. I didn’t have a case or an empathetic, ethically ambiguous bond with a man struggling inside. Not yet, anyway.

Wits Justice Project provided an incredibly fortuitous platform – they receive mountains of letters every week from inmates who claim to be innocent. The project is part of Wits Journalism. But despite digging through the letters and exploring other possibilities I came back to Anthony in Boksburg. The reasons for the police having a possible vendetta against him were too compelling. I think it is better to discover them by listening to the podcast (the first episode is below this article), but they let the case live beyond a simple “did he do it?”. It made me question the state of the police during our period of transition and how many other people could still be inside today after having their cases mangled during this relatively lawless time.

Good writing should seem effortless. But good radio relies on it feeling conversational and almost impromptu – while putting together a long-form investigative piece is a lot of scripting and editing and more scripting. There is a peculiar tension in episodic journalism where you are following the journalist as a character through a case and experiencing their surprises, sorrows or triumphs with them, while still being aware that they know what is going to happen next. When I started work on this story I had no idea if Anthony was guilty or innocent and though that is the central question (which is explored up until the final moments of the eighth episode) it is also a leaping off point for issues around the criminal justice system.

I became haunted by the photo of the security guard with the blood-soaked beard and saw it as a point of release from trying to recreate another piece of journalism. This show would be compared to Serial (for better or worse) but once I got fixated on this photo those concerns fell away and the story became about finding justice for this man and his partner who were gunned down at 9am while working at a shopping centre in Vereeniging surrounded by kids and families.

During the eight-part podcast series (available on iTunes and soundcloud and broadcast each Sunday on SAFM at 2.30pm), you’ll follow presenter Freddy Mabitsela and me as I visit crime scenes, find police officers with stories of shootouts, unravel conflicting documents, chat to family members about DNA, stake out prisons, piece together medical records for evidence of torture and drink at taverns to wait for lawyers. DM

Alibi is broadcast weekly on SAFM at 2.30pm on Sundays (First episode on the 5th of March).

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Listen on Soundcloud

Visit www.alibi.org.za for more notes and info on the case.

Alibi is produced by Paul McNally, Wits Justice Project, The Wits Radio Academy and as part of Citizen Justice Network. It is presented by Freddy Mabitsela and Paul McNally.

Paul McNally is an award-winning journalist living in Johannesburg. He was a Knight Visiting Nieman Fellow in 2016 at Harvard University. He is the author of the non-fiction book The Street: Exposing a World of Cops, Bribes and Drug Dealers and is the Founding Director of Citizen Justice Network, a project based at Wits University that trains community paralegals to be radio journalists.