Chilling details emerge in army lockdown ‘killing’

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Chilling details emerge in army lockdown ‘killing’

The family of an Alex man who died after an alleged beating by soldiers turns to the highest court for justice

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Soldiers patrol Alexandra, Johannesburg, to enforce the lockdown. There is now a call for a 'code' regulating the conduct of law-enforcement officials during the shutdown.
Shutdown fatique Soldiers patrol Alexandra, Johannesburg, to enforce the lockdown. There is now a call for a 'code' regulating the conduct of law-enforcement officials during the shutdown.
Image: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

On April 10 2020, between five and six o’clock in the evening, several SA National Defence Force (SANDF) officers descended on the Alexandra home of father-of-three Collins Khosa, apparently in search of alcohol.

Just hours after they left, 40-year-old Khosa died, allegedly as a consequence of brutal torture at the hands of SANDF officers enforcing the government’s Covid-19 shutdown.

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says Khosa’s death is currently under investigation – but the officers implicated remain on duty.

After Khosa’s death, Mapisa-Nqakula warned the public not to “provoke” the soldiers.

Now, fearing that Khosa’s death won’t be properly investigated, his family and girlfriend have launched a potentially landmark Constitutional Court case, which demands that the state take action to prevent human rights abuses by law-enforcement authorities and ensure that such abuses are easy to report and properly investigated.

At the time of publication, Khosa was one of five people who died allegedly as a consequence of police and defence force brutality during the enforcement of the shutdown.

All the deaths occurred in informal settlements or disadvantaged areas.

In other sickening details, Khosa’s girlfriend, Nomsa Montsha, recounts in court papers how two SANDF officers entered the home she shared with Khosa and accused him and the couple’s neighbour, Thabiso Muvhango, of violating lockdown regulations by consuming alcohol in their yard.

After Khosa contended that he was allowed to drink alcohol in his yard, Montsha says SANDF officers confiscated his and Muvhango’s alcohol, vandalised Khosa’s car and ordered the two men onto the street.

She says another three SANDF officers arrived and “poured beer on top of [Khosa’s] head and on his body”.

“One member of the SANDF held his hands behind his back, while the other choked him; they slammed him against the cement wall; they hit him with the butt of a machine gun; they kicked, slapped and punched him on his face, stomach and ribs; and they slapped him against the steel gate.”

Montsha says both she and Muvhango – who pleaded with the SANDF officers not to touch his pregnant wife – were assaulted by the SANDF. She says she was whipped with a sjambok.

Several witnesses have confirmed that SANDF officials forced them to delete cellphone footage of the assaults on Khosa.

One member of the SANDF held his hands behind his back, while the other choked him.

Montsha, Muvhango and Khosa’s mother now want the Constitutional Court to order that the law-enforcement officials who were present at the location where Khosa died must be disarmed and rendered off duty by their bosses until the lockdown is over.

They are calling on the court to order the government to, among other things, develop and publish a “code of conduct and operational procedures” regulating the conduct of law-enforcement officials during the shutdown.

Using the unbridled horror of their currently uncontested account of how Khosa died, lawyers for his loved ones want the as yet unpublished law enforcement code of conduct to establish guidelines on:

  • The circumstances under which force can be used;
  • The enforcement of the Lockdown Regulations “and any other Regulations issued during the State of Disaster regarding the use and consumption of alcohol”;
  • “When a person can be arrested and alternative means of securing their attendance at trial.”

They are also requesting that SA’s highest court demand that the leadership of the SANDF, the SA Police Service and any metro police department warn their members “that any failure to report, repress and prevent acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment shall expose them each individually to criminal, civil and/or disciplinary sanctions”.

In addition, lawyers representing Khosa’s loved ones are demanding that police minister Bheki Cele and Mapisa-Nqakula “establish a freely accessible mechanism for civilians” to report alleged atrocities or abuses committed by law-enforcement officials during the State of Disaster.

They also want the two ministers to institute a special investigation, led by a retired judge, into “acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” allegedly committed by state authorities.

That investigation would include a focus on how Khosa was treated.

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