File photo by Matlhodi Madibana.

Pretoria - The SA National Defence Force, the defence union (Sandu) and the police are investigating the death of a female recruit, who apparently committed suicide after she and her long-term partner were publicly humiliated and he was illegally stripped of his rank at the Oudtshoorn Infantry School.

Southern Cape police spokesman Captain Malcolm Pojie confirmed on Friday that police had opened an inquest docket following the death of 21-year-old Ntokozo Ngcobo on Monday afternoon.

“Police were informed of a shooting incident that occurred within the training perimeters of the SA National Defence Force at Olivier’s Kop, Oudtshoorn. On their arrival at the scene, they found the body of the student with a single bullet wound to her head,” he said.

Police found an R4 rifle beside her body. It was sent for ballistics testing.

It is not known how Ngcobo obtained live ammunition.

Pojie said an autopsy would be conducted on Ngcobo, a single mother from Umlazi near Durban.

Sandu national secretary, Pikkie Greeff, said they were also investigating an incident before her death, during which the door to her partner Corporal N Ngobeni’s room was kicked in, before she was dragged out.

“We have spoken to [Ngobeni], who is a member of our union. He and the lady had been in a long-term relationship,” Greeff said, adding that it was not uncommon for staff to have their wives or girlfriends with them in their quarters after hours.

“But his door was kicked down and he doesn’t understand why he was targeted.”

Greeff said the manner in which the couple was approached was an invasion of their privacy.

“The officers dragged the woman out of the quarters and the next thing he heard, she had committed suicide,” he added.

Ngobeni was subsequently called in front of the entire battalion and stripped of his rank through “some kind of kangaroo justice” by officer commanding Colonel Siseko Nombevu, “because he was sleeping with a student”. He was summarily transferred to Ladismith, where he is reportedly under constant observation after learning of his girlfriend’s death.

Greeff said proper procedures such as facing a military court had been ignored in favour of “jungle justice”. He charged that the base lacked proper disciplinary procedures, instead using humiliation as a tool to discipline recruits.

“The corporal told us that derogatory remarks were made about his girlfriend’s sexual behaviour while he was being stripped of his rank, and that her dignity as a woman was disregarded. The next thing he knew, she went to the sick bay and shortly after that she was found dead.”

In a suicide note Ngcobo apparently left behind, she reportedly referred to the humiliating incident.

Ngcobo was the breadwinner in her family and single mother to four-year-old son Konke.

Greeff said the union was in the process of preparing a civil claim for damages suffered by Ngobeni, and also for loss of earnings on behalf of the now motherless young boy. The claim could run into hundreds of thousands of rand.

“We insist that the SA Defence Force answers our questions surrounding this incident, and that action is taken in Oudtshoorn. This is not the first time we’ve raised issues over the training methods there,” he said, calling for the commanding officer to be removed from his post.

In June, Sandu called for an independent investigation into the training methods in Oudtshoorn after five recruits died in three years.

The union’s call for action followed the death of Elvirsha Bruintjies, 25, apparently of heart failure. Greeff said it was common knowledge that the recruits had been forced to take part in a strenuous physical training session just days before her death.

“We have reports that punitive PT sessions are still occurring in Oudtshoorn, despite the SANDF declaring almost a decade ago that exercise cannot be used to punish recruits,” Greeff said.

In December 2011, Simpiwe Ntozini, 36, died of heat exhaustion after being made to march in the blazing sun while wearing full gear, including weapons. On August 26 last year, Moseki Kethupile, 22, died after he shot himself in the stomach with an R4 rifle during a training session.

In addition, Foster Veli Maluleke, 27, of the navy base in Simon’s Town, died of hypothermia following a night exercise in the Stompdrift Dam outside De Rust in July last year.

Mtateleli Mafane, 48, of Peddie in the Eastern Cape, died on June 16, 2010, after being hit by an SANDF vehicle while walking along Serison Street near the mess hall.

The SANDF promised investigations into all the incidents, but Greeff said no outcomes had been forthcoming.

On Friday night SANDF spokesman Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga confirmed however that there would be an inquiry into Ngcobo’s death. - Pretoria News Weekend