Phillip Makheta Selokoe takes the stand as a state witness for the second day in the trial against seven policemen accused of assaulting and murdering Andries Tatane during a service protest in Ficksburg last year. 240412 Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

The community leader who helped organise the protest march at which Andries Tatane died was an “unreliable” and “misleading” witness who continually changed his testimony.

So said the defence on the second day of trial in the Ficksburg Regional Court.

Tatane died after a confrontation with a group of police officers during the protest outside the Setsoto municipal offices in Ficksburg in April last year.

Seven police officers now face charges of murder and assault. All have pleaded not guilty to both charges.

On Monday, the first witness, Makheta Phillip Selokoe, testified that the march from the nearby Meqheleng township remained peaceful until residents reached the offices.

There, as the mayor responded to the resident’s memorandum of demands, an apple and a water bottle were thrown into the crowd from the second floor of the building. A protester responded by throwing a rock at the glass office doors, breaking them.

“Everything went out of control,” said Selokoe. Police sprayed a water cannon at the crowd, hitting some of its elderly members.

When Tatane confronted them, Selokoe said he was beaten by a group of officers armed with batons until he collapsed and died. He said he did not see any other weapons.

In cross-examination on Tuesday, defence advocate Johann Nel revisited this testimony, digging for details and inconsistencies.

In his evidence-in-chief on Monday, Selokoe said the crowd was angry and upset listening to the mayor’s responses to their memorandum, shouting and throwing their hands up in dissatisfaction. On Tuesday he refused to elaborate.

“There were 4 000 to 5 000 people there. They responded in different ways,” said Selokoe. “Ag, sir, you were there,” said Nel. “Did they behave in ways they were not supposed to or did they stick to the rules of the march?”

“I repeat, there were between 4 000 and 5 000 people. Their behaviour showed that they were dissatisfied in different ways.”

The defence said the witness was being deliberately evasive, failing to provide details he had previously testified about, like the mood of the crowd, what other objects they threw at the building, and whether he physically saw or heard the marshals attempt to control the crowd.

“At the meeting we had before the march, the marshals knew what they had to do,” said Selokoe. “So when people behaved badly, they would have spoken to them to calm them down.”

“Do you think this, or did you actually see this?” asked Nel.

“I didn’t hear them, but their task was to keep the crowd calm.”

“So you didn’t see them doing it, you only believe they did it?”

“Their task was to keep the crowd calm. I believe they did.”

Selokoe was also asked to describe in detail where he was standing when the crowd grew rowdy: on the steps in the entrance of the municipal building. “But if you were standing there, it would be impossible to see something thrown from above,” said Nel.

“I repeat: a squeeze bottle and an apple fell from the second floor,” insisted Selokoe.

“I put it to you that this is a fabrication,” countered Nel.

He said Selokoe was “unreliable”, “misleading”, and contradicting his own evidence.

The witness insisted he first saw Tatane when he confronted the driver of a police water cannon. But Nel pointed out that, in his evidence-in-chief, Selokoe said he actually saw Tatane earlier in the march walking with the protesters. “It’s shocking how you as a person could come before this court and promise to tell the truth but you’re here and you’re not doing it,” said Nel.

The case continues. - The Star

[email protected]