Maverick Citizen

MAVERICK CITIZEN

Laingville residents on West Coast vow to keep fighting for justice for Leo Williams after death of his guardian

Laingville residents on West Coast vow to keep fighting for justice for Leo Williams after death of his guardian
Community leader Thyrone Williams was at the side of Cathy Thomas at Red Cross Hospital in Rondebosch, Cape Town, since the day that Leo Williams was shot. Cathy died on Sunday. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

On Saturday, Cathy Thomas, the legal guardian of Leo Williams, died without knowing which police officer had fired the rubber bullet that killed her nine-year-old ward.

All she wanted was to know who killed Leo Williams, the nine-year-old boy shot a year ago during violent protests. But Cathy Thomas, Aunty Cathy to her community, did not get closure. She died on Saturday, 7 August in the Vredenburg hospital after a short illness. The cause of her death is not yet known.

A police rubber bullet hit her ward, Leo, in the head on Friday, 31 July 2020, during a protest in Laingville, St Helena Bay on the West Coast. Leo was rushed to hospital but the bullet was too close to his brain for doctors to be able to remove it.

The corrugated iron structure in which Leo had been playing with his friends when he was shot was riddled with bullet holes. A video clip shows four police officers firing rubber bullets into the structure. 

Leo died on Monday, 17 August 2020 after his life support system was switched off. The rubber bullet was removed from his brain during a postmortem.

The rubber bullet and the video clip were handed to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid). In September 2020 Ipid executive director Jennifer Ntlatseng visited Laingville and told Leo’s family and other residents that they had prioritised the matter.

Last week Ipid spokesperson Grace Langa told Maverick Citizen that all evidence relating to the incident had been handed over to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for a decision.

During her last interview with Maverick Citizen on 3 August, Thomas reflected on the commemoration service held on Saturday, 31 July in Laingville, exactly a year after Leo was hit by the rubber bullet.

“His killers are still walking the streets. How am I supposed to go on with my life? A week ago I was handing out shoes at a primary school in the area. I looked up to the skies and saw Leo waving to me.”

Community leader Thyrone Williams, (not related to Leo), now a Good party member, said: “It was a very tough and emotional two weeks I endured with Aunty Cathy.

“Aunty Cathy was a remarkable person and her memory will forever live on in Laingville. We as the community will take over her fight and will not rest until we find out who was responsible for Leo’s death.” 

Thomas’s death stirred up the community, with angry residents demanding justice for Leo and immediate answers. A meeting was held on Sunday, 8 August. Williams addressed the crowd, telling residents: “I was informed by Ipid Western Cape investigator Shawn Brown that he received information from the DPP that the matter has been referred to the magistrate in Vredenburg.

“Brown told me that the Vredenburg Magistrates’ Court is to hold an inquest into the death of Leo. The general feeling is that this inquest will drag on for months, and residents don’t want to wait so long for an answer on who will be prosecuted for the death of Leo.”

Shortly after the meeting, residents took to the streets and law enforcement agencies quickly closed off the main road leading into Laingville to prevent a recurrence of the violent clashes of 31 July 2020.

On Sunday, Langa conveyed Ipid’s condolences to the family, friends and relatives of Thomas and reiterated that Leo’s case is still awaiting a decision from the DPP.

“Unfortunately there is not much we can do at this stage except to wait for the decision. Ipid endeavours to see justice for the Williams family. Only the DPP is the body that makes a decision at this stage,” Langa said. DM/MC

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