File picture: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
File picture: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Say their names, President Ramaphosa

By Tinyiko Maluleke Time of article published Jun 7, 2020

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For all his sorrowful addresses to “fellow South Africans” over the past 60 days; President Cyril Ramaphosa has not mustered the courage to mention the names of “fellow South Africans”, Collins Khosa, Sibusiso Amos, Elma Robyn Montsumi, Petrus Miggels, Adane Emmanuel and Ntando Elias Sigasa.

Not even in passing.

Surely, he has been the first to know that these “fellow South Africans” died needlessly, prematurely and brutally at the hands of the South African security forces - allegedly.

The lockdown was supposed to help us flatten the curve, not to create a smokescreen under which members of the security have become a law unto themselves, torturing and fatally wounding South Africans, as it has been increasingly alleged.

Last Sunday, during the engagement with Sanef (SA National Editors’ Forum), the president remarked that sometimes “they (the police) let their enthusiasm get the better of them” - allegedly. Since the national lockdown, our security forces have caused the deaths of more than 11 South African souls - allegedly.

In fact, three days into lockdown, an Ekurhuleni metro police officer and his private security officer colleague shot at close range and killed 41-year-old Sibusiso Amos, as he stood on the veranda of his home in Vosloorus, allegedly.

At the time of writing, there were at least 11 confirmed deaths of black people, one of whom was a 7-year old, at the hands of our security forces, allegedly. Up to 230 000 South Africans have been criminalised by being arrested and charged for violating lockdown rules, some of which were rather capricious.

We have a firmer grasp of the circumstances surrounding the death of Khosa than those of his fellow victims. This is because the Khosa case has been ventilated in the Gauteng High Court.

According to an affidavit deposed by Khosa’s partner, Nomsa Montsha, this is how and why Mr Khosa died:

It is Good Friday, two weeks into the South African lockdown. The Khosa family are having supper when two sjambok-wielding SANDF members come marching in. Apparently, the soldiers want to investigate the presence of a camp chair and a half-full glass of beer inside the yard of the Khosa homestead.

Interrupting the family dinner, the soldiers accuse Khosa of violating the lockdown liquor rules.

The pair take extreme exception when Khosa points out that drinking alcohol inside his yard is not a contravention of the lockdown restrictions.

The soldiers ransack the house and confiscate two beer bottles.

They then order Khosa and his brother-in-law, Thabiso Muvhango, to go outside the yard where the soldiers were going to “prove a point” to them. On the way out, one of the soldiers damages Khosa’s car, seemingly intentionally.

When Khosa protests, the soldiers become agitated.

Once outside the yard, the soldiers use the confiscated beers to create the impression that Khosa and Muvhango had been drinking in the street and not in the yard, thus setting them up for assault and torture. The beating of Khosa commences as soon the reinforcements arrive. Beer is poured on him. His arm is twisted, his throat choked. He is slammed against the steel gate. He is hurled against the cement wall.

Kicks, punches and rifle butts rain on him. Montsha pleads desperately with the soldiers shouting: “Stop. You will kill him.” But her protestations fall on deaf ears. Instead, she is chased into the house where she is whipped with a sjambok.

Meanwhile, two neighbours of the Khosas, Mr Tebogo Mothabela and Ms Glenda Phaladi, begin video-recording the assault of Khosa on their cellphones. A member of the SANDF notices this and instructs them to stop.

Their cellphones are confiscated and the footage is deleted. Mothabela and Phaladi are forced into a JMPD (Johannesburg Metro Police Department) vehicle where they are assaulted and driven first to some SANDF base and then to a remote place where they are dumped by the roadside, after their mobile phones are thrown away.

By the time the soldiers leave the Khosa home, the thoroughly beaten Khosa is in a bad state. Soon he starts vomiting. He can no longer walk and he has lost his speech. Three hours after the SANDF soldiers left, Khosa dies.

The legal strategy followed by the Khosa legal team is clearly intended not merely to seek relief for the Khosa family, but for the many victims of lockdown brutality, known and unknown, dead and alive.

They call for the establishment of “a code of conduct and operational procedures regulating the conduct of members of SANDF, SAPS and JMPD in giving effect to the declaration of the state of national disaster”.

They also call for the establishment of “a freely accessible mechanism for civilians to report allegations of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment committed by members of the SANDF, SAPS and JMPD for the duration of the State of Disaster”.

The fact that the country plunged into lockdown without such basic legal provisions as the aforementioned is shocking. Did Ramaphosa think his pep talk to the army on March 26 was equivalent to the promulgation of a formal and legal code of conduct? Did he think he could persuade soldiers and whose default is violence, not to skiet, skop and donner, by sheer force of his army uniform and his English?

What is unforgivable though is that the president seems to have withheld the support and empathy of the state from the victims of lockdown brutality. Meanwhile, South Africans continue to be subjected to thinly veiled threats from the defence and police minister, both of whom often warn that the security forces should not be “provoked”.

In the Khosa case, at least, it seems that it was the soldiers who provoked and possibly broke the law. In his judgement on the Khosa matter, Judge Fabricius grants the Khosa family almost all their prayers. But Cele has threatened to appeal.

We have been made to believe that the national lockdown is an instrument to help us fight the Covid-19 pandemic, and that is correct. But behind our backs, another epidemic has been unleashed, the epidemic of lockdown police and army brutality.

There is probably some connection between the draconian and defensive utterances of certain security cluster ministers on one hand and the rising lockdown brutality on the other.

Why has president not taken any action against the ministers of Defence and Police, not to speak of the officers involved.

I also don’t understand how the president has, so far, been indifferent to the plight of “fellow South Africans” such as Mphephu Khosa, Montsha and the late Khosa’s three little children. Could it be the case that some fellow South Africans are more fellow South African than others?

* Professor Maluleke is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Pretoria Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

*** This opinion piece was written before the president addressed the Collins Khosa case on Friday.

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