/ 1 May 2022

Cold case haunts Bucs star Chippa Chauke’s family

Lesleychauke 6433(1)
No answers: Lesley Chauke, the younger brother of Orlando Pirates player Eric ‘Chippa’ Chauke, visits his brother’s grave in Avalon Cemetery in Soweto. The soccer star was murdered in 2008 and his killers have never been found. Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips

As the trial for the murder of Senzo Meyiwa takes off after nearly eight years, the family of another slain footballer are still searching for answers more than 13 years after he was killed.

On the evening of 4 December 2008 police officers picked up Orlando Pirates soccer star Eric “Chippa” Chauke from his Soweto home and took him to the Protea police station, apparently to question him about traffic fines.

Hours later, Chippa lay dead in the street just 600m from his home. He had been stabbed. 

The circumstances leading to his death led the family to suspect police negligence that has left them broken and frustrated.

Chippa’s brother, Lesley Chauke, said the family found out that police had released him the same evening after questioning him because he had been cleared of any wrongdoing. He had allegedly waited for several hours at the police station pleading with the officers to escort him home but they said no patrol cars were available, even though it was late at night and danger lurked in the township’s streets. 

Chippa lived about 1.5km from the Protea police station. He was going to work at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital the next morning and so he left the station on foot. It was to be his final walk.

His family has spent a frustrating 14 years seeking answers about Chippa’s final moments. They say their efforts to discover the identities of the police officers who refused to take him home have been met with silence and indifference. His murderer or murderers have never been identified.

His mother and older sister, Thembi, died of what relatives said were broken hearts without seeing justice for their son and brother who was loved by friends and legions of fans.

As the trial into the murder of another Pirates star, Meyiwa, got underway in Pretoria in April, Lesley said he hoped to get private prosecutors to assist with the case, although older family members have said they “leave everything to God”. The Meyiwa family enlisted the services of lobby group AfriForum to assist with prosecution in the case after long delays following the Pirates goalkeeper’s murder in 2014.

Gauteng police spokesperson Colonel Dimakatso Sello said in response to an inquiry regarding Chippa’s case that “murder case 122/12/2008 of Protea Glen was finalised in 2013/07/15 at Court as nolle prosequi [will no longer prosecute] since the suspects were unknown.” 

The Chauke family only got to know this after the Mail & Guardian’s inquiry with the police in April.

The fact that police have declared this a cold case brings little comfort to the Chauke family.

Lesley said his mother, Grace, was so affected by Chippa’s death that her health deteriorated. She died in 2018.

“Our mother was always complaining about Chippa’s unsolved murder. She was always asking why her peaceful son could be killed and no arrests made,” said Lesley.

He said his mother was always wondering why the police who took him in for questioning were not held accountable.

“We know that Chippa didn’t have enemies. It still remains a mystery until today as to why he was killed in cold blood,” said Lesley. 

Thembi never stopped trying to find out why her brother was killed. She took leave from work to inquire about the case at the Protea police station. But, said Lesley, she never got any answers.

Thembi often complained of a searing headache, presumably caused by stress. She died in 2019.

Lesley said on the night of Chippa’s murder the family received a phone call from a police officer at the station warning them to rush to the scene where he was killed. This has made the family suspect that his murder was not a random act. 

Eric “Chippa” Chauke

“If they mugged and killed him, then we would have been convinced he was robbed and killed. But nothing was taken from my brother that night,” he said.

Chippa’s cellphone and wallet containing cash, bank cards and driver’s licence were never stolen from him, Lesley added.

The police never kept the family updated about the progress of the case, he said.

“They never really cared. They can’t even tell us why they let him go alone at that time of the night. They won’t tell us who were the police officers that took him from home and booked him at the police station that night,” he said.

He questioned why the contents of the log book, which was signed by the officers who took Chippa from his home, were not made known to the family.

He suspects a cover-up from the police.

“If a policeman who fetched him is still alive, can he tell us what really happened that night.”

When asked about the case and the family’s concerns, the police spokesperson said: “With regards to allegations that the victim was brought to the police, that will be a separate issue from this one [murder]. The family is therefore advised to contact the station commander (Colonel MJ Mokone) to make a follow up.”

Chippa’s story starts on 21 March 1960 when he was born at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.

Grace was in labour the day 69 people were massacred by police in Sharpeville. Grace, from Zone 2, Diepkloof in Soweto, cried tears of joy when she gave birth to Eric Vusi on what is now known as Human Rights Day.

Chippa grew up to make headlines when he played for a star-studded Orlando Pirates team in the 1980s alongside Jomo Sono, Webster Lichaba, Tornado Ntsibande, Amos Mkhari, Patson Banda and a host of other players. His fans nicknamed him The Principal, Chippa or Mambosh.Chippa would have turned 62 on Human Rights Day last month. But a suspected violation of his human rights led to a premature end to his life and his two children may never get to know who killed their father, or why he was killed. — Mukurukuru Media