Durban - Mystery surrounds the death in police custody of a Glebelands hostel dweller who was allegedly tortured with “tubes” while being questioned over illegal firearms.
A witness claims to have heard Zinakile “BhakaBhaka” Fica tortured. A “tube” was allegedly put over his head at the Prospecton SAPS offices two weeks ago.
Xolisa Yena, 33, said when he tried to intervene while Fica was being assaulted at his hostel, he was also taken into custody. He said he and Fica were kicked and slapped by police, who wanted Fica to reveal the location of hidden firearms.
Fica had shown police a service pistol issued to him by the security company he worked for and produced a firearm licence, but the police insisted he was hiding other guns, Yena said.
He said he and Fica were taken to the police station in separate vehicles. Police had also detained two other men, who were taken into the offices with Fica, he said. Yena said he was locked and handcuffed in the back of the police van.
One of the other men, Mfanufikile Skhosane, 33, said 10 police officers, some in uniform, had come to his hostel room. “They banged on my door and ordered me to open it. As I opened it I was greeted with a slap and asked why I’d taken such a long time to open it.”
He said he was handcuffed and dragged to the van. Fica and Musa Gqatyane, a mutual friend, were there. “When we got to the offices in Isipingo, they instructed Gqatyane to dress Fica. Fica was naked.
“They asked Fica for the illegal firearms because they believed he was hiding them. He responded by saying the only gun he had was the one issued to him, for which he had produced a licence earlier.”
Skhosane said the policemen took Fica into a different room and left him and the other friend in another room at the station. But before they left, “they pulled out four plastic bags which they called ‘tubes’ , which they said they used to extract information out of uncooperative people. I’d never seen this sort of plastic bag before”.
Skhosane said: “After that we heard Fica scream once and then there was silence.”
A police officer came into their room and asked them if Fica was epileptic, he said. “We told him he was not. Moments later, a pair of officers came in and asked where the dead person was, in front of the other cop. He quickly rushed out the pair who’d just walked in.”
He said when the police returned hours later, he overheard them talking about how they had messed up, and asked to be freed from the handcuffs.
The police were suddenly more friendly, he said. When he asked where Fica was and if he could see him before he was taken home and freed, he said the police told him Fica would be back the next morning.
The SAPS has declined to comment on the allegations, referring enquiries to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid). Spokesman Moses Dlamini said there was no evidence to suggest torture.
“Ipid is investigating a death in police custody. At this stage there’s no evidence of torture. The investigation is still on. No arrest has been made,” he said.
Dlamini confirmed that one of the three men had opened a case of assault against the police and had submitted a statement. Further evidence relating to Fica’s death would be obtained from blood tests.
Asked why the investigators had not taken statements from the other two witnesses, Dlamini said the onus was not on Ipid to do so – rather they should come forward and provide information.
Fica’s uncle, Banabas Fica, said the family was upset by the manner in which he had died and hoped the matter would be pursued through the courts. His nephew’s family – his wife and five children, including a 5-month-old boy – would suffer now, so the State should assist them, he said.
Bongani Mthembu, Glebelands hostel chairman, said he welcomed the presence of police there to eradicate crime, but he was unhappy with the way Fica had died.
“Police arrested four men. They released three and tried to cover up that one of the men had died there,” he said. “Four days after the man died we had no idea he was dead. If they were being arrested, why were they released so quickly? Where is the case. Why are they not taking statements?”
Mthembu said: “We have no problem with the police… we want them to come here and fight crime. What we don’t want is police who kill people.
“We want police who res-pect the justice system and for the court to decide if people are guilty or not. Now a wife and five children have no father.”