By John Mkhize
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa on Tuesday freed a suspect in the killing of national soccer team captain Senzo Meyiwa due to a lack of evidence, the latest high-profile murder case in which police and prosecutors have struggled to build an air-tight case.
Police arrested Zanokuhle Mbatha late last month after witnesses picked him out in an identity parade, but on Tuesday magistrate Daniel Thulare said there was not enough evidence to try him. [ID:nL5N0SQ4JK]
"Consequently this court orders the immediate release of the accused ... from detention," Thulare told a hearing in Boksburg on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
Meyiwa, 27, was hit by a single gun shot to the chest on Oct. 26 while confronting two intruders at the home of his girlfriend, actress and singer Kelly Khumalo. He had legions of fans in sports-mad South Africa and police have been under huge public and political pressure to find his killers.
His death came soon after a high court judge acquitted Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius of murder after he shot and killed his girlfriend last year, saying the state had only proved a lesser case of culpable homicide.
Prosecutors are appealing that verdict and a five-year jail sentence handed to Pistorius.
In the Meyiwa case, the National Prosecuting Authority said it had found inconsistencies in evidence police had gathered.
"If investigations reveal that there is more evidence that can be, or rather warrants a case to be enrolled again, we will certainly do so," spokesman Nathi Mncube told reporters.
The police handling of the Meyiwa case drew sharp criticism on Tuesday, including from the opposition Inkatha Freedom Party.
"We urge the police to work around the clock and arrest the right people responsible ... as a matter of urgency," it said in a statement.
South Africa has one of the world's highest rates of violent crime, with police recording more than 17,000 murders last year, or 31 per 100,000 people - seven times the rate in the United States.
(Writing by Stella Mapenzauswa, editing by Gareth Jones)