Questions remain in LPM torture case

As police officer Simangaliso Patrick Simelane went on trial this week over the alleged torture last year of four Landless People’s Movement (LPM) activists, questions remained about the identity of others involved in the incident and why the alleged victims were never given the opportunity to identify the assailants at an identity parade.

LPM activists Ann Eveleth, Samantha Hargreaves, Moses Mahlangu and Maureen Mnisi were among a group of about 60 people detained at Soweto’s Protea North police station on election day, April 14 last year, after a demonstration at Thembelihle informal settlement near Lenasia. Simelane is the head of the criminal intelligence unit at Protea North.

Kate Savage, the lawyer representing the four in a separate civil case against the Ministry of Safety and Security, said an identity parade had originally been scheduled for October 15 last year, but never materialised when the police who were meant to stand in the parade failed to appear. Savage said she had written to the Gauteng provincial commissioner of police earlier this month demanding that such a parade be held.

During this week’s proceedings in the Protea Magistrate’s Court, Magistrate Dan Thulare criticised the failure of the investigating authorities to bring more than one suspect to court.

According to the LPM, a group of people, and not just one officer, were involved in the interrogation of the four.
Mnisi, Gauteng provincial chairperson of the LPM, alleges she was assaulted by a woman police officer. Eveleth and Hargreaves both say they were subjected to suffocation torture, with rubber sheeting being held over their faces.

The Freedom of Expression Institute has issued a statement expressing disappointment at “the incomplete nature of the investigation” by the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), which was called in to investigate immediately after the incident.

“While the LPM members alleged that there were many police involved, and one of them was named in a statement to the ICD after the incident, only Simelane has been prosecuted,” the Freedom of Expression Institute said.

ICD spokesperson Steve Mabona confirmed an identity parade was scheduled for October 15 last year. “Unfortunately, the police officers did not attend,” he said. “However, the Gauteng SAPS [South African Police Service] provincial commissioner was persuaded to assist in compelling his members to attend the said parade; unfortunately, we were not successful.”

“In the event there is more information on the other suspect police officers, we will not hesitate to investigate further,” he added.

In court this week, Albert Ramawele, who is representing Simelane, said his client would deny the assault charges.

“He will testify that he was interested in knowing why there were two white people in a situation where they wanted to discourage blacks from participating in elections,” Ramawele said.

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