At first it was believed someone had opened an alarmed door by mistake, but then it was established that prisoners waiting below Court A, where Ntshongwana’s trial was being heard, had smashed the glass cover on a fire alarm.
As the alarm wailed, people in the public gallery dispersed and court officials milled about. Maintenance staff hurried past Ntshongwana in the dock to reach the cells to deal with the problem.
Proceedings started again 20 minutes later, after the alarm was silenced and a new glass cover fitted.
Ntshongwana, of Yellowwood Park Durban, has denied guilt on four counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, one of assault to do grievous bodily harm, and another of kidnapping and raping a woman.
He allegedly killed his victims with an axe.
His lawyer Themba Mjoli previously told the court Ntshongwana had no memory of the alleged crimes.
Specialist psychiatrist John Dunn, who was part of the team which assessed Ntshongwana after his arrest, said all the doctors agreed that he had a serious mental illness.
The defence’s position was that the offences were committed as a result of Ntshongwana’s mental condition.
However, three psychiatrists called by the State have testified that his condition was not so severe that he could not tell the difference between right and wrong, or appreciate the wrongfulness of the crimes.
Cross-examined by Mjoli, Dunn said: “At the time of the offences, it is reasonable to say that he was suffering from a psychiatric disorder which could well have influenced his behaviour in certain circumstances.
“We have no information as to what was going on — the mental state — he has not told us.”
Dunn said there was nothing to indicate that, at the time of the offences, Ntshongwana was compelled to do something, and nothing to indicate he was unaware of what he was doing.
Ntshongwana’s mother was expected to give evidence when the trial resumed on Monday.
Psychiatrist, Prof Abubuker Gangat, who testified earlier in the trial for the defence, would be called to give evidence again later next week.
Part of Gangat’s testimony has been challenged by the psychiatrists called by the State.
Prosecutor Rea Mina said she would not object to the witness being recalled.