Durban – A policeman and father of two, who was convicted of shooting dead a teenager during a 2013 protest in Durban’s Cato Crest, was sentenced to 10-years' imprisonment in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

Nqobile Nzuza, 17, a matriculant at the time of her death, was shot in the back during a road blockade that turned violent in Cato Crest, an informal settlement just west of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College campus, on September 30, 2013, during one of many flare-ups between shack-dwellers and police.

According to Abahlali baseMjondolo (Abahlali) -- a movement that describes itself as “the largest organisation of the militant poor in post-apartheid South Africa” -- Nzuza joined the Abahlali-led blockade to protest the “brutal attacks” and “illegal evictions” in the area.

Throughout the trial, Phumlani Ndlovu, a junior officer at the time of the incident, continued in his employment after cleared by an internal investigation. 

He denied that he shot Nzuza, even though ballistic evidence linked his gun to the killing. The court had heard that Ndlovu discharged his gun for the first time on the day the young woman was shot.

The Durban Magistrate’s Court was filled with Abahlali supporters as Magistrate Anand Maharaj handed down the long-awaited sentence. Maharaj said the shooting was understandable but not justifiable.

“Throughout the trial initially one got the impression that it was self-defence, but we find out there were shots in the air and shots in the ground, but you can’t say he acted in self-defence and shot someone in the back,” said Maharaj.

“The finding I have to make is that he fired into the crowd. That is the most likely probability. He came up with different versions of shooting into the air and then into the ground but nobody wants to explain to me how was this child shot in the back.”

Maharaj also said that although the protest had turned violent, there was no evidence that the teenager was acting violently; instead, she appeared to be trying to escape the violence.  

Acting for Ndlovu, advocate William Nicholson called the shooting “one in a million” and “a split second decision”. He said Ndlovu was in danger and had a split second to make a decision to save his life without escalating the violence.

“The police accepted his defence in the disciplinary that he shot into the ground,” said Nicholson. 

Maharaj would not allow an extension of Ndlovu's bail. 

President and founder of Abahlali, S’bu Zikode, told African News Agency (ANA) he was disappointed that Ndlovu had received less than 15 years and was granted leave to appeal.

“But we accept and welcome the judgment because the policeman is now in jail and will finally lose his job and all benefits,” said Zikode. 

“This will send a clear message to hooligan police officers and will also send a message to those politicians who think they can hide behind the police,” he said.

According to KwaZulu-Natal’s human settlements’ department, eThekwini Municipality has 569 informal settlements, which equate to about 238 000 households. The department has told ANA that it would take R42-billion “excluding inflation, and excluding any improvements to the current housing typology” to provide shelter for those households.

African News Agency/ANA