Police accused of torturing suspects in murder case

Men who “confessed” under torture were later acquitted in court

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Photo of Khayelitsha Police Station
Officers at Khayelitsha Police Station have been accused of torturing confessions out of three men. They were all eventually acquitted of a murder charge. Archive photo: Nokubonga Yawa

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate is investigating claims that Khayelitsha police tortured two suspects who were later acquitted of rape and murder.

The men say they were tortured into confessing to crimes they had not committed. Moses Dlamini, spokesperson for IPID, confirmed to GroundUp that the agency was investigating the complaint.

In September 2017, the body of Zanele Sandlana, 21, was discovered in TR Section, Site B, Khayelitsha. Three men – Masixole Scott, Luthando Mposelwa and Bonani Zeleni – were arrested the following month.

Scott, 26, says he was the first to be taken into police custody. “Sometime in October, I got a visit from a police officer, who had a bottle of whisky in his hand. He told me that he had heard I am friends with Luthando Mposelwa. He told me to call Luthando and tell him that I have whisky and he should come drink with me, so that he could arrest him. I didn’t have Luthando’s contact and he was no longer staying in Khayelitsha, so I drank the whisky by myself.’’

Later in October, he says, the same officer came back looking for Mposelwa. When Scott said he didn’t know where Mposelwa was, he was taken to the police station.

“When we got to the police station, more detectives asked me why I took the whisky if I don’t know where Luthando is. That’s when I asked them why they wanted Luthando,” says Scott.

He says he had known nothing about the rape and murder until then. “They told me that Luthando was wanted for rape and murder. They accused me of lying and they started beating me up. They beat me until I told them that I remembered Luthando once took me to a house in Samora Machel when we were drunk. We drove to Samora but I couldn’t remember the house, so they took me back to Site B police station and beat me some more. They kept me there and said they would look for him themselves. Two days later, they put me in an office and they brought Luthando in.”

Mposelwa, who was arrested on 19 October, says he was tortured until he confessed to the rape and murder of Zanele Sandlana. He says police knocked on the door of his uncle’s house in Samora Machel where he was staying, “around 1 or 2 in the morning.”

When he opened the door, police officers showed him a picture of himself on a cellphone and slapped him, he says. He was handcuffed and taken by car to a holding cell at Site B police station.

He was shown a picture of a young woman and asked who she was. “I told them that I don’t know her. They took out another phone and showed me another picture. It was the mother of my child. They took out another phone, showed me another picture. It was my other girlfriend.

“A detective who smelled of alcohol came in and asked me why I had killed the girl. I asked him which girl? And he slapped me many times. He then said to me ‘Andiyazi (I don’t know) isn’t wanted in this room’. Every time I said I don’t know, I got slapped. Then they hit me harder until I fell on my stomach. They put a plastic bag around my face and head, and stretched out my arms wide and I could feel the handcuffs hurting me. The one holding the plastic on my head told me that when I am ready to tell them why I killed that girl, I should kick. I kept telling them that I didn’t know what they were talking about but they kept torturing me harder.’’

He says police made him go with them to pick up a third man, Bonani Zeleni.

When they got back to the station, Scott was brought in from another room and, says Mposelwa, tortured in front of him.

“They brought him in and kicked him over and over and covered his face with a plastic bag. I then realised that this wasn’t going to end soon. They put the plastic back on Scott again and when they took it off, I told them that I had done it. They asked me who I did it with. I told them I did it with Scott. They asked me again three more times and I said the same thing.’’

Mposelwa says he heard Zeleni being tortured in another room.

“They also tortured him until he confessed.”

He says police told Scott to tell everyone what happened. “It was clear that Scott didn’t know what happened to this girl but the police were giving him leads as to what happened where. They were directing the story.”

Mposelwa and Scott were moved to Harare Police Station and Zeleni to Macassar.

They appeared briefly in court on 2 November and again on 30 November when they were sent to prison. Zeneni got bail on 3 January 2018.

In June 2018 they appeared in court again and the prosecutor asked for time to gather more evidence. On 26 July 2018 the case was dismissed.

After several visits with lawyers to the Lingelethu West police station to get their dockets and medical reports, Zeleni and Mposelwa opened a case of assault against the police in October, Zeleni at Mfuleni police station and Mposelwa at Bellville. Zeleni’s docket was transferred to Khayelitsha police station and Mposelwa’s to Nyanga.

GroundUp went to the Khayelitsha police station on 6 and 7 November to get the police officers’ side of the story. But the communications officer was not there and no-one else was available to speak to us. We sent emails to the Lingelethu West police station and Khayelitsha police station, but received no responses.

We also sent an email to Western Cape SAPS. Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut responded: “Police brutality is condemned in the strongest possible terms, and management will not hesitate to take action against offenders.”

He referred GroundUp to IPID.

IPID Spokesperson Moses Dlamini said “We have received the two matters and we will investigate.”

Meanwhile, Zeleni has lost his job and has not found another. ‘’Our names are tarnished,” he says.

Mposelwa says they want answers. “The court cleared us, the real perpetrators have always been out there in the community. The police should work hard and find them so that they get the punishment they deserve. To this day, it doesn’t make sense why we were linked to this.”

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TOPICS:  Policing

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