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Cape Town -
Four charred bodies lay inside the remains of an incinerated shack.
Vuyiswa Mpekweni clearly remembers the crime that not only rocked the community of Makhaza, but also resulted in the deaths of four members of her family nearly seven years ago.
Ntombomzi Ngqono was 35, Thulani Ngqono was 17, and Alude Ngqono and Siphosetho Megadla both 9.
Mpekweni keeps the memories of their lives in a folder - smiling school photographs, family portraits... and press cuttings, one headline screaming “Evil bastard”.
Their deaths still haunt her now in what is one of the most shocking stories brought before the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into allegations of police inefficiency in January.
It was past midnight that Sunday, October 28, 2007, in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, Mpekweni, 66, recalled.
Speaking at her Section 32 home this week, about a five-minute drive from the crime scene, she relates how h
er neighbours took her and her husband, Nzwandile Beja, to the cordoned-off red and white-taped scene in Section 36 - the shack where her niece’s family lived.
Blue lights flashed and a large crowd had gathered.
Her husband, who has since died, fought his way through the crowd.
“My husband was insisting that he was going to go in... They allowed him to go in, he went and stood where the incident took place. When they got there we saw the shack had been burnt down, there was nothing there… We could see there were heaps and it looked like it was people there,” Mpekweni testified before the commission.
A policeman showed Beja different places, explaining where a door had been, and said petrol had been poured there. He explained how the door had been wired closed so the occupants couldn’t escape.
“So that they could burn, whoever was inside would burn to death,” Mpekweni said.
“There were black things which seemed to be these kids, it was the bodies of these kids. The policemen were showing my husband but I could also see that there was a black shadow where there was a door. It appeared that one of the children who was nine years old died on that spot.”
They were the remains of her niece Ntombomzi and her three children.
Soon afterwards, her niece’s ex-boyfriend, Mpumzi Nangena, also the father of one of her children who died in the fire, turned himself in to authorities for their murders.
Mpekweni lost her composure as she went on to remember how other residents told her they had seen him at a garage earlier that day, filling two containers with petrol.
“He said he wanted to buy petrol to burn Ntombomzi tonight. They asked, ‘What about your child?’, and he said ‘I don’t care, I’m going to burn them’.”
Mpekweni explained that the break-up with her niece had left him angry. Nangena had persistently tried to win her back.
He had also gone to her niece’s new shop, where she sold beer, cigarettes and other goods, and witnesses said he had demanded beer from her.
Ntombomzi had refused, saying he couldn’t even afford to pay child support, and the incident had escalated into a heated argument, they had told her.
The bodies were transported to the Salt River Mortuary, but Mpekweni said she didn’t want to see them.
In November that year they were taken to Port Elizabeth for burial.
Mpekweni said grief had affected her and her family’s health. Her older sister had a heart attack, and not long afterwards her husband died from illness brought on by high blood pressure.
A month later, when Nangena appeared in court, it emerged that the case docket had disappeared.
Nangena was set free, but told not to go far because he’d be rearrested if the docket turned up.
A short while later,
Mpekweni said, she learnt from a neighbour that Nangena planned to go to Johannesburg.
Outraged residents took to the streets demanding Nangena’s mother tell them where he was. The police were called to disperse them.
Seeking closure, Mpekweni went to the police station where the assigned case detective took her to the senior prosecutor’s office at the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court. They found the docket on the prosecutor’s desk that day - but she has yet to hear from the police.
In a last-ditch bid for justice in 2008, she took a picture of Nangena to the police station where she appealed to a detective for help.
“He said to me, Joburg is too big. They can’t find him there,” said Mpekweni.
“I asked if they can put the picture on TV to find him and they said how about I check for him myself.”
That was the last time she had tried to work with the police, said Mpekweni.
“Till today, we have never heard whether he was arrested… my heart is broken because at this time he was making me do the work of the police,” she said, adding that she had lost trust in the police and had given up.
Locals tell Mpekweni it’s likely that Nangena has taken on a new identity and distanced himself from his old life.
Others say he has gone mad, haunted by the guilt of the murders.
On hearing Mpekweni’s story, the commission relayed the case number to police and asked for information about the murders to follow it up.
Approached for comment, the commission’s office said it had received no new information with regard to the case.
Efforts to secure police comment proved unsuccessful this week.
“It’s not finished in my heart,” said Mpekweni.
“I think about them sometimes,” she said, adding that she tried to dismiss these thoughts since they were too painful.
“There are days and times when I can’t forget… I can’t forget. Four people died.”
- Saturday Argus