The human cost of judicial error

[L-R] Advocate Donrich Jordaan, Boswell Mhlongo and Mavis Sideko

On the first anniversary of his release from Kgosi Mampuru (Pretoria Central prison), the wrongfully convicted former inmate says he’s still recovering from the 13 years he spent behind bars for a crime he did not commit: “It’s not easy to regain everything I lost. There’s a stigma attached to spending time in prison. People don’t trust you, they fear you. The hurt is still there. It’ll probably stay with me forever.”

Though he protested his innocence from the time of his arrest, there were many occasions a despondent Mhlongo believed suicide was his best option. “I spent 23 hours alone in my cell every day for most of the time I was in prison and had plenty of time to plan. I decided to swap my phone cards for Lepinax pills which were given to aggressive inmates to calm them. I accumulated them inside my radio in order to overdose.”

Mhlongo’s first and second attempts to end his life failed and a third landed him in a coma. “I woke up in Kalafong hospital six months later with tubes everywhere. The doctors wanted to switch off those machines but my family refused. I felt bad when I woke up. I’d spent five years unsuccessfully trying to get my trial transcripts which I needed to appeal my case and could see no reason to live. I asked myself over and over why I’d been locked away for life. I couldn’t find any answers….”


The latest offering from senior WJP journalist Carolyn Raphaely tells the story of Boswell Mhlongo who spent 13 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Read the full piece as it appeared in both The Daily Maverick and The Star.


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About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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