Welcome to Unsolved Murders SA, a podcast series where we will be delving into gruesome homicide investigations that, at the time of producing the episodes, were still open.
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Unsolved Murders SA: How Fatima and Rameez Patel met
Fatima Patel was a 28-year-old mother of three children from Laudium, Pretoria. She and her two sisters, Shaakirah Choonara and Rubina Ghood, were raised by their mother Feroza Choonara.
She met and fell in love with Rameez Patel in 2006 and a year later, the two exchanged vows and settled down in Nirvana, Polokwane, where they enjoyed a peaceful life.
Fatima was a stay-at-home wife and Rameez was a successful entrepreneur with a number of wholesale retailers in Polokwane.
Together, they raised three children.
Fatima Patel was brutally murdered inside her home on Friday 10 April 2015. She had just returned from visiting family. Earlier that fateful week, Fatima and her children had paid Farook Choonara, her uncle, a visit in Laudium.
Choonara recalled how, during their conversation, Fatima forged happiness. When he had asked her about this, she promised to return two days later to talk about it.
“I somehow sensed that she was not telling the truth because her eyes told a different story. She promised to visit me on Wednesday and I was hoping to have a talk with her in the hope that she would open up.”
Here’s what happened on the week Fatima Patel was killed
This would be the last time Choonara saw Fatima alive.
Fatima and the kids spent the rest of the week at her sister Rubina Ghoord’s place in Centurion. According to Rubina, Fatima cut her stay short and returned home to surprise her husband and help her mother-in-law pack for an international trip.
Fatima left Rubina’s place on Thursday and this was the last time her family saw her alive.
Rameez’s actions on the day he found his wife’s battered body lying in a pool of blood inside their home raised suspicion.
According to investigating officer Constable David Nkuna, who testified in court during trial proceedings, shortly after Fatima’s body was discovered, he left his home and drove to his uncle’s house to take a bath, effectively removing all trace evidence.
Then, he changed his clothes at least three times that day and refused to hand over the outfit he wore when he supposedly stumbled on Fatima’s body to police who were working tirelessly to piece together the events that transpired that fateful Friday.
Rameez’s version of events is that he was outside the property that afternoon and had heard the sound of a gunshot coming from his home.
When he arrived, he found his dead wife’s body lying in a pool of blood. Rameez has long maintained that a burglar had invaded the couple’s home and killed Fatima.
However, nothing was stolen and police who’d combed the house in search of traces left by the burglar found no signs of forced entry.
This led investigators to believe that if the burglar story was to be entertained, then whoever entered the home must have had keys to the entry doors.
Unsolved Murders SA: The witness testimony in the murder trial
Rameez was placed under arrest and charged with killing his wife six days later, on 16 April 2015.
Police were confident their case against him was strong. After all, his alibi was weak and could not be supported by witnesses, his behaviour on the day of the murder was bizarre, to say the least, and, as it turns out, he may have had a motive to murder his wife.
We will get to the latter a little later on in this episode.
After a number of court appearances, the Polokwane High Court determined Rameez was not a flight risk and so he was released on R250 000 bail.
Initially, the trial was scheduled to start on 15 February 2016 but the State, at the time, had asked for a postponement due to the mysterious disappearance of two crucial witnesses.
The witnesses, two Zimbabwean nationals who worked for Patel, managed to escape from the Witness Protection Programme and were never found.
This forced the court to postpone the trial to 1 August 2016.
This would be the first of many postponements to hamper the trial, which has yet to take off in 2022.
Fatima’s family was one of the first set of witnesses the State called up to testify against Rameez when the trial first commenced in August 2016.
According to Feroza, shortly after the birth of her third child in December 2014, Fatima had paid her a visit and revealed, during a conversation, that all was not well in her marriage.
Contrary to the visage displayed by Rameez, things were falling apart at home. Feroza told the court that her daughter had been informed by Rameez that he wanted to end things.
Fatima’s other sister, Shaakirah Choonara also testified against her brother-in-law. She told the court that Rameez owned a firearm and he always carried it whenever he was on patrol as member of Nirvana’s neighbourhood watch.
He usually carried it in a brown bag but when investigators searched his premises for the weapon that killed Fatima, the gun was never found.
Shaakirah also told the court that in her encounters with Rameez after the murder, she noticed he had scratch marks on his neck, a sighting corroborated by police and Fatima’s uncle Farook who also testified at the trial.
According to Farook, his suspicions grew when he noticed a change in Rameez’s behaviour. He was never one to wear jackets but, coincidentally, after Fatima’s murder, he was rarely seen with his arms bare.
Remember, as we detailed in part one of this story, Fatima had defensive wounds on her face, neck and arms. This would indicate that she had fought for her life and possibly left scratch marks on the murderer.
Proceedings were delayed in October 2016 and when they resumed in that same month, the court heard testimony from a domestic worker, Sarah Malatji, who worked at a neighbour’s house.
Sarah recalled that, on that fateful day, she had heard a gunshot, followed by a woman’s blood-curdling scream coming from the Patel home.
Shortly before that, she had observed the couple’s eldest son getting into a white car and a silver-grey car speeding out of the complex.
As it would later be revealed in court, at least one of the cars was driven by a Danford Gundiza who just so happened to be one of the two key state witnesses that had escaped the Witness Protection Progamme.
According to Gundiza, he was outside the house on the day of the murder and had heard Fatima telling Rameez to return with boxes from the shop.
Things were heated between the couple and Gundiza remembered hearing Fatima scream, “Tell me the truth, why are you lying?”
At around 14:00, Rameez called Gundiza to the car, saying they had to go to the shop. On the way, Rameez picked up a friend and drove back home. Gundiza told the court that all he remembers is that he was told to stay in the car while Rameez and the friend went into the house.
Four days after Fatima’s death, Gundiza recalled Fatima’s scream and asked Rameez why his wife needed boxes. His response was that she wanted to move out of the house.
This remark became the centre of the state’s argument on the motive behind the brutal murder.
Before we get to that, another witness testimony is worth mentioning.
Sibongile Ngwenya was employed by the Patels as a domestic worker. Ngwenya was the other key witness who, along with Gundiza, had escaped the witness protection programme for reasons associated with remuneration and living conditions under police watch.
When she finally did take the stand, Ngwenya revealed that while she was not present at the time Fatima was murdered, she and the children were transported away from the home by Rameez’s brother, Razeen, hours earlier, who took them to his workplace.
This could have been the white vehicle Sarah, the neighbour’s domestic worker, saw Fatima’s eldest son getting into shortly before the gunshot and screams rung off.
Ngwenya told the court that she returned to the property with Rameez later that day. When she went into the house, she saw pools of blood in the kitchen and that’s when she alerted Rameez, who saw Fatima’s body and started screaming.
However, bizarrely, instead of contacting police, Rameez made sure Ngwenya did not enter the house.
After the discovery, Ngwenya and Rameez went to his parents house. There, Ngwenya recalled, she was visited by a man who identified himself as a policeman.
The two exchanged words briefly and when the man had left, Rameez’s mother Mahejebeen Banu Patel probed her about what she had told the policeman.
The mother warned Ngwenya about talking herself into trouble. The following day, an unidentified driver picked up Ngwenya and they drove to a business parking lot.
They were there to meet another individual, a man who identified himself as her lawyer.
The lawyer probed Ngwenya about what she knew about the murder of Fatima. Bizarrely, the lawyer warned Ngwenya that someone was looking for her and when asked by police who her legal representation was, she ought to mention him and indicate that she was referred to him by a friend.
Ngwenya never accepted the man’s legal aid.
The Patel domestic worker also strengthened the case with two crucial pieces of evidence: a gun owned by Rameez, that Shaakirah had already confirmed exists; and a letter written by Fatima where she had detailed the true nature of her marriage.
Fatima was of the belied that Rameez’s parents were not fond of her. This could explain why she went the extra mile and cut her family holiday short to help Mahejebeen pack for her international trip.
The letter also lent to the possible motive behind Fatima’s murder.
Rameez was involved in an extra-marital affair with a woman named Nasreen Mayet.
Abdul Nazim, Nasreen’s ex-husband, was brought in to court to clarify certain details of the affair.
He told the Polokwane High Court that he first became aware of the lusty affair between Nasreen and Rameez in August 2014.
The lovers had met at the school their children attended and sparked a heated romance. Despite his best efforts, Abdul could do nothing to stop Nasreen from making every effort possible to see and spend time with Rameez.
In October 2014, he invited Rameez to a restaurant where he, in the presence of his ex-wife, advised the lovers to end the affair.
Rameez agreed to stop seeing Nasreen but, of course, this was never the case.
On 2 September 2014, Rameez and Nasreen approached their respective partners separately to ask for a separation.
By January 2015, Nasreen had successfully divorced Abdul but Rameez was still living with his wife and children.
Rameez assisted Nasreen with moving out of her place in Bendor Village and into a house he rented for her in Cycad Estate.
Questions remain unanswered about what Fatima may have stumbled upon when she returned from her Gauteng trip unannounced that Thursday evening.
Investigating officer Mohammed Whab, who read the sworn statements submitted by Ngwenya and Gundiza in court, revealed that Rameez had spent time with Nasreen at least two nights before Fatima’s murder.
Abdul also admitted that he would bump into the lovers at various locations months after his divorce was settled.
Ngwenya had informed police that she heard Rameez reveal to at least four of his friends that he had done away with Fatima.
It was at Mahjebeen’s residence.
Ngwenya wrote in her sworn statement that she was at the corridor leading from the lounge when she specifically heard Rameez describe to his friends, how he had struck Fatima repeatedly with a cricket bat to silence her. When she fell to the ground, Ngwenya recalls Rameez admitting he strangled her.
Before he could reveal any more information, Rameez and the friends were alerted to Ngwenya’s presence and immediately, he paused and said:
“Game’s over, will tell you tomorrow what happened”.
State pathologist Dr Arnold Mamashela informed the court that Fatima’s chances of survival were minimal due to the brutality of the attack.
Her face was battered by a blunt object. Her throat bone was completely crushed and she was shot in the head.
At first, Razeen had defended his brother in court and corroborated much of his defense.
When he first took the stand in October 2016, Razeen had strengthen the burglary story with the claim that Fatima’s handbag was nowhere to be found.
He had also indicated that around the time of the murder, the residential complex’s electric fence was offline, making it possible for an intruder to enter and exit without harm.
Razeen’s stance would change in 2018 but hours before testifying against Rameez, he was shot four times.
Miraculously, Razeen survived the attack and immediately thereafter, he fled to the United Kingdom, citing fears of his safety as the reason.
Assisted by the State, Razeen returned to South Africa, where he took the stand and told the court Rameez had handed him a box containing blood-stained clothing and a firearm.
Razeen says he was instructed to hide the box at a warehouse and await further instructions.
Shortly after Rameez was arrested, Nasreen contacted Razeem and collected the box.
Razeen, apparently afraid for his life, informed his parents about what Rameez had done.
Bizarrely, both of the brothers parents would die under suspicious circumstances shortly thereafter.
This brings us to the end of Part 2 of this episode.