Murder and rage in Yeoville

Sazi Ngubane was planning a trip to KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday, to tell his family the circumstances of his brother Mduduzi’s death. That trip will never happen. Sazi lies in a mortuary, allegedly killed by a trigger-happy police officer with a hair-trigger temper.

Both brothers died on the same street in Yeoville in Johannesburg, just one week apart. Mduduzi was fatally stabbed in an argument outside the parking entrance of a block of flats on Yeo Street two weeks ago.

When the Mail & Guardian visited the area this week, people’s anger was reserved for the death of Sazi, an event that led to the street being shut down by furious residents.

Yeoville has known better days. An old suburb, Yeo is one of its main streets and is lined with flats in various stages of decline. A few newer ones are bordered by spaza shops that break up the monotony of rows of residential homes. With little in the way of service delivery, the smell is eye-watering. Blowflies congregate on piles of refuse strewn liberally in the street. Groups of men, who offer to wash or look after cars, stand around watching pedestrians navigate the debris, hop scotching around it to get to work.

At Sazi’s home at the Cavendish flats, at the top of Yeo Street, the de facto caretaker attempts to clean the walkway, but decides to leave it be, it’ll be dirty in the morning anyway. He lights a cigarette, sits on an overturned bucket and points to where Sazi had moved, next to the police station.

This is where he was staying when his brother was stabbed. In a neighbourhood where people know each other, if not by name then by sight, everyone seems to have known Sazi and Mdu. The former is described as always laughing and enjoying a good drink, often in the company of his brothers and other men who hang out on the street.

On Tuesday this week, Sazi — accompanied by Shaneen Jung*, a friend to both brothers — went to the spot where Mduduzi died with a plan to pahla and release his spirit. They also planned a celebration of Mdu’s life. According to Shaneen, because his brother had died so violently, Sazi wanted to discharge his weapon as a send-off of sorts. Nearby, a hearse containing Mduduzi’s body was idling to allow Sazi his expression of grief before it went off to the funeral home.

What happened next is not entirely clear, but led to a violent standoff between the police and residents.

Shaneen says that after Sazi shot four bullets in the air, a police car rounded the corner and came upon him while he was still holding his gun and seated in the hearse.

Two officers climbed out and ordered Sazi to get out of the hearse and drop his weapon. Sazi complied quickly, Shaneen says, putting his weapon down and raising his hands in the air in surrender. He then reached into his pocket, shouting that he had a licence for the weapon. Five shots rang out. Seconds later, Sazi was on the ground bleeding from three gunshot wounds to his upper torso.

Those who spoke to the M&G believe that Sazi did what the police asked of him, but he was still shot dead.

At the corner of Yeo and Kenmere streets, a small group of people sit at Kwa Ntshebe restaurant, going over the details of what they’ve seen and heard since Sazi died.

Shaneen is among them. She says the police left the body for an hour, during which time a crowd congregated in the street. The police then returned and forced people away, using rubber bullets and teargas. Her account is backed up, at different times in the day, by other people who were there when he was killed, some of whom live in flats that overlook the street.

Shaneen says: “They told me, my poes. They said ‘voetsek, fokof!’ They don’t have to tell me anything.” She pauses to show the bruises where she says rubber bullets hit her. “I was just trying to find out why they killed him. Their ma se poes, they killed him like a dog. Here, in broad daylight.”

Her hoarse voice rises as she adds: “I want to know who will feed my kid. Will they [the police] do it? All they know is to harass and swear [at]us, but they don’t do their job.”

The residents’ response was swift and angry, the culmination of what many believe is a marked lack of trust in those entrusted to protect and serve them. Bins and large rocks now litter the street where the brothers met their end. A crowd tried to break down the main entry gate to the police station, just one street away. When that failed, they resorted to stopping cars entering or leaving the station, and throwing rocks at the building.

Nthabiseng*, a food vendor who plies her trade on Yeo Street, says they know the name of the police officer who fired the fatal shots. “He’s wearing his uniform, he’s on duty. If I was the one who shot someone, they would be investigating while I am in the cells. Why is he still holding the gun?”

She is adamant Sazi was sitting in the hearse when the police confronted him. “Why shouldn’t we be angry? He came to say goodbye to Mdu and they shot him.”

She continues, saying the reason for people’s anger is simply the culmination of a lot of police brutality: “The police here have become so brazen; witnesses mean nothing to them. They are a law unto themselves.”

For the people who came forward to tell the M&G what they saw, there was a common theme: Why did the police not shoot him in the leg or arm to maim him, instead of using deadly force?

A woman who identifies herself only as Sazi and Mdu’s sister joins the group at Kwa Ntshebe restaurant. She is accompanied by a co-worker of Sazi’s, who will help her clean his room and collect his valuables to send back to his family in KwaZulu-Natal. The room is locked and no one knows where to find a spare key. Dejected, she says she won’t go to the police to gain entry into the flat.

People who were in the immediate vicinity of the shooting allege that police tried to cover their tracks by citing self-defence as the reason for the shooting. One resident, who works at a car wash just metres from where Sazi died, says he’s not surprised by the police’s arrogance.

Other residents tell the M&G that their rage stems from years of putting up with a corrupt police force that does not appear to care about the welfare of the Yeoville community, but rather cares about “cool drinks” (corruption) and throwing its weight around. One woman said that Sazi’s death is just “business as usual” for the police.

No one from Yeoville police station has come forward to explain what took place or what happens next, residents say.

When the M&G visits the police station on Wednesday things are relatively quiet. One officer, appearing on edge at the presence of journalists with questions about the shooting, says there is “unrest” in the Yeoville community. He doesn’t say anything more, and instead provides contact details for the communications officer for the station.

Moses Dlamini, spokesperson for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), later confirms that the police watchdog is investigating.

When told about Ipid’s involvement, Shaneen says: “I don’t give a fuck about that. Sazi is still dead, nothing will bring him back. The police are still doing what they want.”

Then she wades through the rubbish to help Sazi’s sister look for the keys to 2D.

• *Pseudonyms
• The Mail & Guardian is doing an investigation into the police and allegations of sustained violence in Yeoville. This will be published next week. 

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Kiri Rupiah
Kiri Rupiah is the online editor at the Mail & Guardian.

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