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The five men accused in the 13-year-old murder of Tandiwe Betty Ketani may be released if they are granted bail next week. This possibility has led most of her family to travel to Joburg from the Eastern Cape.
Ketani’s family has agonised over her whereabouts for thirteen years. But in a surprise development last month, they were told by the police that bones discovered in Booysens may belong to their long lost sister.
Anxious to finally know the truth, they have been making regular trips to Joburg from the Eastern Cape.
Just last month, confession letters signed by one of the accused were discovered hidden under the carpets of a home in Kenilworth, southern Joburg. The owner of the property tore up the old carpets during a routine upgrade between tenants and found the letters revealing grisly details surrounding Ketani’s murder.
The letters presented enough information for the police to make five arrests, including the writer. All five accused appeared in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on Friday morning, but the expected bail application was postponed until next Friday.
The State submitted an application to the court to prevent any details about the men from being published in the media, as an identity parade is set to take place on Wednesday in the hope that more accomplices will be arrested.
In court on Friday, Lungiswa Ketani became tearful as she described her family’s desperate search for Tandiwe. Lungiswa said when Tandiwe first went missing in 1999, another sister came to Joburg to investigate.
Tandiwe had been working at a popular Rosebank restaurant at the time, earning money to send back to her three children in the Eastern Cape. But when her family had not heard from her for weeks, her sister went to Joburg to try to find her.
“But her boss (the owner of the restaurant) wouldn’t help us find my sister,” said Lungiswa. With few others to turn to, her search failed and the trail went cold as police investigations stalled for 13 years.
But last month, the Ketani family was contacted by the police with news of the remains that appeared to belong to Tandiwe, although forensic tests have not yet confirmed this.
On Friday, all five of the Ketani siblings were in court along with a close friend of Tandiwe.
All of them were worried that the men accused of Tandiwe’s murder and cover-up would be released.
Tandiwe’s children, Thulani, Bulelwa and Lusanda, 14, did not come to Joburg because they were too distraught and unable to afford the trip.
The court postponement provided a brief respite for the family, but they plan to return for next week’s bail application when all five men will ask to be released. Two of the accused have already submitted written confessions to the police. One of the men is still an acting police officer, while another, his brother, was also an officer at the time of the murder.
The letters found in Kenilworth were written by one of the accused, and linked several others to a spree of violent abductions and Tandiwe’s murder.
According to the letters, in May 1999, the 37-year-old woman was kidnapped and shot in the head before being dumped in Walkerville. Even though her killers thought she was dead, she survived and was taken to a Vereeniging hospital.
However, the letters state that the group of men realised the hit had been botched, and forged medical documents to kidnap her again from the hospital, brazenly removing her in a wheelchair as they pretended to transfer her to another facility.
It is believed she died either from the shock of the second kidnapping, or from being suffocated by tape placed over her mouth and nose. Her body was initially entombed in concrete and buried at the house. It was later dug up and taken to a dump site in Booysens.
The letters, addressed to an individual who cannot be identified, told the police where to find evidence such as video footage, photographs and recorded phone conversations relating to the abduction spree.
The writer of the letter believed he would be dead by the time the documents were discovered and wrote: “Please do everything you can to avenge me,” the letter concludes. “Lastly, f*** them all!!!!!”
More arrests related to the case are expected in the coming week.