Thato Mokoka was punched in the face by a police officer before he was shot dead on Valentine’s Day this year by a student constable who was part of a team of officers who raided his house.
This was stated by his aunt, Winnie Mokoka, in the Johannesburg High Court on Monday. The 16-year-old fell to the ground, then the officers asked him “where the gun was”, Mokoka testified. “Thato said ‘Mom, I did nothing. Tell them I did nothing and I don’t know anything about a gun’.”
On Monday, Sipho Mbatha, who is alleged to have shot Thato several times with his police-issued R5 assault rifle, pleaded not guilty to murder
before Judge Kathy Satchwell.
“I don’t plead guilty to murder but to culpable homicide. It was not my intention,” he said.
State prosecutor David Mothibe asked the witness for her recollection of the events that day.Mokoka said a group of police officers came knocking on her door that night, looking for Thato.
Mokoka said the officers arrived at about 11pm, asking where Thato was.They informed the family that he was suspected of being in possession of an illegal firearm and of being a member of a local gang called the BWA.
The family replied that Thato lived in the shack next to the house. Police then went and knocked on his door and demanded he come out. There were four people inside the shack, two girls and two boys, including Thato. One girl ran out of the shack and went and stood by the witness when officers opened the door.
Mokoka said one officer punched Thato in the chest, knocking him down, and her nephew crawled for a bit on the ground, before Mbatha put his foot on his neck to stop him.
“(Thato said) I’ve done nothing, tell them I know nothing of a firearm,” said Mokoka.She said she was unsure of exactly what happened next, but heard several gunshots.”It was a continuous, long shot. It made a ‘trrrrr’ sound,” she said.”After the last shot, his (Thato’s) head fell and hit the ground,” said Mokoka.
After the shooting, Mokoka said, she saw the rifle lying next to her nephew’s head.
Mokoka could not identify Mbatha as the one who pulled the trigger.
Kenneth Manyage, for the defence, cross-examined the witness and read Mbatha’s version of the evening’s events.
He said Mbatha had searched the teenager for weapons, and because Thato was not co-operating, he tried to lift his torso off the ground. During this search, Mbatha allegedly heard a gunshot, then edged backwards and tried to tighten his grip on his rifle.
The gun then started discharging bullets. Mbatha tried to control the weapon, but it was “too powerful for him”, said Manyage.
He said his client had then thrown the gun away in an attempt to stop it firing, which is how the gun came to rest next to Thato’s head.
Before Mbatha appeared in the dock, he held his head down and had his coat pulled up to cover his face.
However, when Judge Satchwell allowed the media to record and photograph certain parts of Monday’s proceedings, Mbatha no longer tried to cover up his face.
Thato’s mother Beverly and some friends of the family were in court on Monday.
The trial continues.