Cape Town - More than a year after seven police officers were acquitted of the murder of protester Andries Tatane, the Hawks are still investigating perjury claims against two key State witnesses who scuppered the case.
The ruling in March last year shocked the nation.
Tatane’s death in April 2011, caused by two rubber bullets fired to his chest at close range, had been caught on camera and broadcast that night on TV screens across the country.
The footage also showed a group of police hitting Tatane with batons after he had reacted violently to an officer trying to arrest him.
But in the Ficksburg Magistrate’s Court in the Free State, it was not an open-and-shut case.
Only one police witness identified the accused in the video – but under cross-examination, it was revealed that he had recently been suspended from the SAPS and was facing armed robbery charges, making him an unreliable witness.
The two other police witnesses the State had hoped would corroborate their colleague’s testimony turned hostile on the stand.
Captain Matshidiso Lesimola and Sergeant Kabelo Moroane both said they were threatened by Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) investigators, and rejected the sworn statements they’d previously made.
By the end of the case, Magistrate Hein van Niekerk agreed that the force used against Tatane was “disproportionate” – but that the State had failed to prove who it was who meted it out.
All seven accused walked.
At a press conference a week later, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said it would open a docket to investigate perjury charges against Lesimola and Moroane. Were they really threatened by the Ipid investigators, or did they lie on the stand? That was in April last year.
Three months later, we contacted the NPA and the Hawks, who had been tasked with investigating the case.
At the time, spokesman Captain Paul Ramaloko said the docket was in the hands of the Kimberley branch of the Hawks. “No one has been formally charged yet, but the investigations are at an advanced stage,” he said. “The docket will soon be forwarded to the director of public prosecutions (DPP) for a decision.”
In October we contacted them again. By now, the docket had reached the DPP – but there was still no decision on whether to press charges.
We contacted them again in March, but heard nothing back.
Then, last week, we called them again.
We asked where the docket was, whether a decision had been made, and what the reason was for the delays.
NPA spokesman Phaladi Shuping said that some of the delays were caused by waiting for a transcript of the trial, which was essential for the investigations.
He said the Hawks then sent the docket to the Free State DPP.
The Free State DPP then forwarded the docket on to the DPP in the Northern Cape, “to ensure an objective and open-minded investigation by a person who has no links with the suspects and no possible interest in the matter”, explained Shuping.
“Remember, the DPP Free State is the complainant in this matter and we cannot make a decision on a matter in which we are complainant,” he said. “Otherwise we will be playing a referee and the player in the same game.”
Then, sometime in the course of this week, as we waited for further explanation from the NPA, the docket was sent back to the Hawks.
Both Shuping and Ramaloko said this was for the Hawks to get two final statements that would help the DPP make a decision about the matter.
We weren’t told when the Northern Cape DPP received the docket, and no explanation was provided for why it has taken until now for these two outstanding statements to be obtained.
They said the docket would probably be sent back to the DPP in the following week.