Achmat calls for ceremony for police to apologise

| Adam Armstrong
Zackie Achmat testifies at the Khayelitsha Commission. Photo by Jared Rossouw.

The police should hold a formal ceremony to apologise to some of the victims of poor policing in Khayelitsha, Zackie Achmat has suggested.

Giving evidence to the Khayelitsha commission of inquiry, Achmat, who has been involved with three of the organisations which called for the commission - the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) and Ndifuna Ukwazi - opened his testimony with half a tongue in his cheek saying, “Forward to socialism”.

In response Commission chair Judge Kate O’Regan quipped, “We have limited terms of reference.”

Achmat told the stories of three women who had been raped and murdered.

Lorna Mlofana was murdered on 13 December 2003 because she lived openly with HIV. She was a TAC educator and activist according to an affidavit given to the commission by TAC. Members of the community marched to the alleged offender’s house. They were going to burn down the house and kill him but TAC leaders managed to convince people that justice not vengeance was what was needed.

The two men accused were sentenced on 16 February 2006, after spending two years awaiting trial. In November of 2009, the family of the victim learned that the conviction against the accused had been overturned. SAPS and the investigators did not contact Mlofana’s family to inform them that the conviction was being challenged, or that it had been overturned. The victim’s family only found out when they saw the offender on the streets.

The case was handled poorly, Achmat explained, it was postponed at least 15 times, as a result of issues such as the docket not being at court or the defence not being ready to plea. The shoes of one accused were not sent to the forensic lab for testing – though they had blood on them.

Advocate Peter Hathorn, legal counsel for the complainant organisations, said to Achmat that Provincial Commissioner Arno Lamoer, in preparation for this Commission, reviewed this case and stated that it had been investigated properly. Achmat responded “[General Lamoer] should have looked at the charge sheet, before stating under oath that the case was investigated properly.”

Achmat then described the case of Nandipha Mkeke, also a TAC member, who was raped by a gang of young boys and murdered in a toilet in December 2006.
One man accused of raping and murdering Mkeke was released on bail and her family went into hiding for their own safety. According to Achmat, the family turned to taxi drivers to arrest the man. He stated that the police were just not doing their job. The murderers were convicted in 2008 after many postponements in the case. “Never once did the police actually go and visit the family and say ‘this is the situation’”, Achmat said. “I’ll never forget the pain on her elderly father’s face, whenever he had to talk about the fact they were not getting justice.”

Achmat then described the case of Zoliswa Nkonyana who was raped, stabbed and stoned to death at the age of 19, because she was a lesbian. Nine men, most of whom were young teenagers, were arrested for the crime. She was killed in 2006 but the case was only finalised in 2012, after more than 50 postponements testified Achmat.

In 2008 the magistrate hearing the case described the state’s handling of it as “gross negligence” after failing to ensure witnesses were at the trial.

In September of 2010, two teenage boys were released after having served four years in prison awaiting trial. They were arrested and charged based on testimonies they had submitted. They were released because their confessions had been submitted without a legal guardian or lawyer present, making the evidence inadmissible.

Also in September of 2010, four of the accused were assisted in their escape from Khayelitsha Court by a police officer. Achmat said he did not know if there were any consequences for the officer involved.

Achmat spoke emotionally about SAPS officers who beat their wives or the officers who had killed their wives and taken their own lives. Better policing depended not only on discipline but also on support for the police, he said. “When you place untrained people in those situations, and they face horror on a regular basis, what do you expect?”

He proposed that SAPS should hold a ceremony and formally apologise to the families of the victims he mentioned in his testimony. This was essential to start to changing policing in Khayelitsha and the attitude of citizens to the police, he said.

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TOPICS:  Civil Society Crime Government Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into Policing National Provincial

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