Durban Magistrate Anand Maharaj convicted Warrant Officer Phumlani Ndlovu, saying there was no need for him to fire into the group of protesters because they were running away from him and his colleagues.
Maharaj also found that the protesters did not pose a threat even though they had been hostile during the protest. The magistrate said Ndlovu had denied throughout the trial that the bullet that killed 17-year-old Nqobile Nzuza came from his gun despite ballistic evidence proving otherwise.
In 2013, protests erupted over housing at the Cato Crest informal settlement. The protest soon spiralled out of control, which led to police intervention and shots fired by officers.
Nzuza was hit in the back of the head. Her family said she had been a bystander.
Nzuza’s death resulted in an outcry with then Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Willies Mchunu condemning the violence and calling for an investigation into what had happened.
The shack dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, welcomed the conviction saying: “The judgement sends a message to all police officers who act on the instructions of politicians. We call it ‘political policing’, when the police act on the directions of politicians, instead of doing their jobs to protect people. We know that the family will find some closure for their pain, although they are still waiting for sentencing.”
Abahlali said there was still a lot they had to work towards in the future and that the conviction was a result of sustained activism.
“It is clear to us that the only way that we will have any chance of defeating the politics of violence, and the gangster state that drives this politics, is by sustained organisation and mobilisation.
“As people who are impoverished and black, our lives count for nothing to the police, the ruling party and the elites in this society.
“We can only stop these murders by insisting that our lives count, and putting the full force of our struggle behind this demand. Our struggle is for land, housing and dignity but it is also for life,” they said.
Sentencing is expected on October 9.