Veil of silence shrouds witness’s arrest in Tatane killing

By Mandy De Waal 2 June 2011

Molefi Nonyane, the man who cradled Andries Tatane as he lay dying, has been arrested by Bloemfontein police and allegedly denied access to his lawyer. It's a particularly worrying development, as he was due to appear in court in Ficksburg as a key witness in the case against eight policemen accused of Tatane’s murder. Community activists said they did not know where Nonyane was and were concerned for his safety. By MANDY DE WAAL.

Molefi Nonyane was due to appear in court in Ficksburg, Free State, on Thursday morning with the eight policemen charged with Tatane’s murder, but was nowhere to be seen. He had apparently been arrested early on Wednesday evening, 1 June.

The last time I saw Molefi he was handcuffed like me,” said Pseliso Mpekoa, who was arrested with Nonyane after he tried to persuade the police not to take Nonyane away. “We were arrested by a special task force team from Bloemfontein. We weren’t even arrested by local police,” said Mpekoa. He said he was charged with interfering with police in the execution of their duties.

“I was taken to Ficksburg police station, but Molefi was taken to Bloemfontein. Our lawyer has tried to see him, but the police refuse to speak to our lawyer about Molefi at all.”

All efforts by the Daily Maverick to confirm Nonyane’s arrest and get comment from South African Police Services spokespeople in Pretoria, Ficksburg and Bloemfontein proved fruitless on Thursday and no statements had yet been issued. The duty station commander in Ficksburg refused to comment on the case and referred the Daily Maverick to regional spokespeople, none of whom answered or returned our calls.

In reporting on the arrests, Eyewitness News earlier quoted community representative Ncebakazi Manzi, who alleged police were trying to intimidate witnesses to Andries Tatane’s death.

The SABC broadcast the events on television, showing Tatane being beaten by uniformed police and being shot, apparently with a rubber bullet, at point-blank range. Tatane subsequently died in Nonyane’s arms.

Manzi told Eyewitness News, “Nonyane and Mpekoa were arrested by two policemen in private cars who apparently refused to identify themselves. The situation is very suspect and obviously it must have something to do with the court hearing today.”

Eyewitness News reported that police had confirmed the arrests, but had not offered any information about what charges were being brought against either Nonyane or Mpekoa.

Molefi is the main witness in our case and just a day before his appearance in court he is arrested,” said Mpekoa. “We had lawyers last night to come to talk to the police, but Molefi was not allowed to speak to the lawyer. They kept us separate. He did not appear in court, unless he appeared in court in another town that we don’t know about. I am worried about him.”

Both Nonyane and Mpekoa are active leaders of the Meqheleng Concerned Citizen’s Movement which has protested against police violence during previous court hearings related to the Tatane murder. Eight members of the SAPS appeared in court on Thursday, when the case was postponed until 14 June.

Volksblad journalist Willem van der Berg, who was present in court, said the hearing took place under heavy police guard. “All eight policemen charged were in court, but there were a lot of other police in court as well. There was a strong police presence outside the courtroom.”

The police made sure no one took photographs or had a mobile phone in their hands. Somebody wanted to send an SMS and the police immediately told him to stop and put his mobile phone away,” said Van der Berg, who added a court order prohibiting photographs being taken of the accused was still in effect.

“Outside the court there were a lot of riot police keeping an eye on people who were singing and protesting. About 50 people were singing and dancing and holding placards which mostly read that they hated the police, the municipality or the government,” said Van der Berg.

The police ordered the crowd to stop singing and dancing outside the court, and warned them that if they didn’t stop, the police would fire tear gas at them in 30 seconds. Some people ran away, but others stood their ground.”

Many in the crowd waited until Mpekoa walked out of the court room. “The crowd went crazy when he walked out. They just started singing and going mad,” said Van der Berg.

Mpekoa said that subsequent to Tatane’s death tensions between police and members of the Meqheleng community had been high. “We have been trying to build relations with the police, but after (Nonyane’s arrest) yesterday the hatred and the anger is back,” he says. “People don’t want the police again. The animosity continues to grow instead of us healing the community.”

He said the granting of bail to the eight accused had fuelled tensions. “The community is sad,” says Mpekoa. “The fact that the police were first denied bail and then later granted bail in Bloemfontein without us even knowing about it, without the family being advised, is very sad. We should have been informed. We only knew about this when we learnt of it through the news. This makes the community think the police are getting special treatment or that they are getting things specially done for them.”

UPDATE: Captain Dlamini, an SAPS spokesperson, says that Molefi Nonyane was arrested after an old fraud charge against him was reopened. Dlamini says the charge relates to a case that the police opened against Nonyane in 2008. Nonyane is being held in Bloemfontein but was arrested in Ficksburg. Captain Dlamini says: “Nonyane is being held in Bloemfontein because his crime was committed in Bloemfontein. I can’t comment on his lawyer not being able to speak to him. I don’t know anything about that. He will have a bail hearing tomorrow (Friday) at the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court.” DM

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Photo: A screengrab from eNews.


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