South Africa

Zandspruit, a place of fear and unhappiness

By Greg Nicolson 4 December 2012

Two weeks after Daily Sun published an incorrect story on mob justice in Zandspruit, community leaders face trial for the murder. It’s part of a conspiracy to stop them criticising the ANC ward councillor, claim the arrested. While the story thickens they claim wrongful arrest, torture and intimidation. Yet we are no closer to knowing what happened on 30 October in the squalid settlement. By GREG NICOLSON.

Thobile Dubazane* says there were two dozen police cars when they came for her. Sitting on a plastic chair in her Zandspruit salon, the South African National Civil Organisation (Sanco) member points to the windows and mirror that were broken the night police arrested her for a mob justice murder on 30 October.

The police wanted to arrest her husband, she says, because they didn’t know they were looking for a woman. When she said her name was Thobile, a male officer followed her to her bedroom and watched her as she changed before they took her away. “He told me to dress like I was going to a beauty contest… I was humiliated,” she says.

Dubazane was one of the Zandspruit community members arrested for the mob justice killing that was publicised by Daily Sun on 20 November under the headline “Zimbos hunted and killed!” Daily Maverick criticised the tabloid for bordering on promoting xenophobia and inaccurate reporting.

A day after the Daily Sun article, Dubazane and other community leaders were arrested in the night by members of the Tactical Response Team. The four community leaders, who have since been released without charge, say the police came with a copy of the Daily Sun, which incorrectly featured pictures from an unrelated mob justice murder in Diepsloot.

The Zandspruit residents, who have been arrested or fear arrest, are all members of Sanco, and believe the issue started weeks ago. Since the 2011 municipal elections, they have complained and protested against their ward councillor, Maureen Schneemann. They claim the councillor’s ANC branch was not established according to party procedure and, once elected, Schneemann refused to work with the elected ward committee. 

A week before their arrest, the Sanco members met with Councillor Schneemann, members of the ANC, and representatives from the Gauteng premier’s office to air their complaints. They said the councillor didn’t like “the truth” and walked out of the meeting.

The next day, SABC aired an interview with Sanco members Dubazene and Sabata Mokhati, saying the local ANC branch did not follow the protocol of the ANC and its delegate to the Mangaung national elective conference would not reflect the interests of members. 

Caption: Sabata Mokhati (left) and Azwidohwi Ranenyeni inspect fellow Sanco member Thobile Dubazane’s gate. Dubazane said police broke her gate, two windows and a mirror when they came to arrest her in the night.

Mokhati claims that after the SABC aired the interview, he received a call from the councillor’s son, Greg Schneemann, an ANC member of parliament. Mokhati says the MP told him he had no right to comment on such issues. “He was telling me, ‘I will see what is going to happen to me.’ I took that as a threat… because I never knew what was going to happen,” says Mokhati.

Mokhati believes he is wanted by the police for the mob justice killing. The SAPS have visited his house and insulted his niece and held his sister by the collar of her shirt while demanding to know his whereabouts, he says.

MP Greg Schneemann vehemently denied the claims of intimidation and called the accusation a lie. “I’m telling you, emphatically, no,” he told Daily Maverick. “That is a blatant lie.” He said he had communicated with Mokhati over the years in his dealings with Sanco but said, “I don’t make threats. I’m not that sort of person.” He took offence to being asked whether his mother was the ward councilor, saying his parliamentary position and her local role have no connection and mother and son are both long-standing ANC members in their own right. 

MP Schneemann warned Daily Maverick he would take it to the press ombudsman if it published Mokhati’s “lies”.

The Sanco members, however, believe they are being targeted, so they will drop their campaign against Councillor Schneemann. They say they were in a meeting while the 30 October killing occurred, and have submitted the meeting register and minutes to police. Someone came to tell them about the mob justice, they say, but they told him to call the police because they could not leave the meeting. They deny knowing anything about the killing.

Dubazane says when she was arrested, police jabbed her with their guns. Along with two other females and a male, she was kept in Roodepoort police station for three days without charge. “They humiliated, they abused us.” She says one of the arrested females was given a lie detector test by crime intelligence and then tortured.

“There was a white guy. They took her head and put it on the thighs of that guy. Then they beat her with a closed fist. They kicked her in the womb. She’s traumatised. She’s got a problem.” Dubazane opened a case against the SAPS that she has been told has been referred to the Internal Police Investigative Directorate. She said that at no point did police show they had any evidence linking her to the mob justice killing. 

Four of the arrested were released without charge after Zandspruit residents marched to Honeydew police station. Three others will appear in Roodepoort Magistrates’ Court on Thursday after their hearing on Monday was postponed because they did not yet have a lawyer.

A Honeydew police station brigadier said he could not immediately comment on the issue. The case is “at the beginning stages” and “is causing a lot of problems”, he said, referring to the community march. 

After the arrest, the station spokeswoman Karen Jacobs told Daily Sun, “It does not matter if someone belongs to a political party or an organisation. Murder is murder and we will act.”

Councillor Maureen Schneemann laughed off allegations she could be linked to the arrest of the Sanco members. “I wish I did have more influence in the police… I do not have authority in the police,” she said, also pointing out that she did not have the responsibility to appoint police station brigadier, who was appointed this year.

She said the Zandspruit Sanco members have campaigned against her for two years. “They want the power. They are fighting the ANC but they are not members.” The councillor said the ANC branch was set up according to protocol and the Sanco members did not know about its procedures because they do not attend meetings. She said was focused on bringing service delivery to the community while they are “a disgrace”, leading destructive protests.

The councillor said 7,000 houses would soon be built in Zandspruit. Yet when one walks to Wolf Section, where the 30 October killing took place, narrow, rocky paths that black as the rain mixes with wastewater, lead between shacks. Government officials continue to claim there will be development in the area but residents simply point to their current squalid conditions.

As the rain beat down on his porch, a 60-year-old man whose 57-year-old wife is one of the three charged with the mob justice killing, says he has just heard rumours about what happened the day of the murder. Before taking his elderly wife into custody, he says police came with a copy of Daily Sun, pointing at a picture of the man killed in Diepsloot. 

“Why you come at night?” he asked police. He didn’t receive an answer. Like all the other residents linked to Sanco that Daily Maverick spoke to, he is now scared the police will act without evidence and return to arrest those claiming to represent the interests of their fellow community members, those who want to challenge Councillor Maureen Schneemann. DM

*The writer was working with Dubazane’s daughter, a concerned community member, on understanding protest and service delivery issues in Zandspruit during the time she was murdered in June 2012.

Read more:

  • Daily Sun’s ‘journalism’ and human rights betrayal in Daily Maverick 
  • Zandspruit serves another burning delivery in Daily Maverick 


Main photo: Sabata Mokhati speaks to his sister about the night the police came looking for him. Mokhati says SAPS members insulted his niece and manhandled his sister after they broke down the door to his house.  



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