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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 624

Paragraph Numbers 351 to 362

Volume 3

Chapter 6

Subsection 51

Staged escapes

351 Two KwaNdebele families made statements to the Commission regarding relatives who disappeared in strikingly similar circumstances. Both individuals were arrested by the police but were subsequently reported to have escaped from custody. Over a decade later, neither has been seen or heard from again. Even their families have given up hope that they are still alive. No one has applied for amnesty for either incident, but the Commission’s investigations have made some progress in unravelling the mysteries surrounding these disappearances. KwaNdebele policemen are implicated in the probable deaths of both detained activists. A report on one of the cases has been sent to the Attorney-General for consideration.

352 On 11 February 1987, Mr Jim Msebenzi Mahlangu [JB02465/01MPMOU], a fifty-one-year-old headman, was detained at his home at 159 Tweefontein ‘G’ by three white and three black KwaNdebele policemen. Ms Anna Mbele, one of Mr Mahlangu’s wives, and Ms Maria Mahlangu, his mother, witnessed his detention. They were told that he was being detained under the emergency regulations.

353 Later the same night, policemen returned to the Mahlangu home, claiming that he had escaped while directing them to an arms cache hidden at a friend’s house. Before the police left, they detained one of the sons, Mr Themba Mahlangu, saying that the boy would “speak the truth”. Themba Mahlangu was held at Kwaggafontein police station for five days under the emergency regulations without being questioned. He did not see his father. Ms Anna Mbele searched police stations and mortuaries in the area, but found nothing.

354 The disappearance of Mr Mahlangu appears even more suspicious given the headman’s previous political involvement. Mahlangu had a good working relationship with ‘comrades’ in the area and played an active role in the local ‘people’s court’. He had also assisted in a special police investigation into outstanding charges against KwaNdebele politicians and members of the Imbokodo vigilante group (see below). Mahlangu had helped the police collect statements on a raid in Tweefontein from twelve residents who might otherwise have been reluctant to co-operate with the police. These statements were central to the case against Imbokodo leaders.

355 The KwaNdebele Police insisted that they had no record of Mahlangu’s detention, though entries in the investigation diary of the disappearance docket suggest that individual policemen may have known about the case, but had refused to give a statement. The investigation was subsequently closed for lack of information.

356 On 6 February 1987, Ms Happy Shabangu and her brothers Lucas and Stephen Shabangu were working at the Bundu Inn in Moutse, KwaNdebele, owned by their father, Mr JB Shabangu. Between 12h30 and 13h00 that afternoon, six KwaNdebele policemen arrived at the premises in several vehicles. They have been identified as Warrant Officer Eric Magagula, Constable SJ Kritzinger and Sergeants Arnoldus van Schalkwyk, Sam Mphelo (since deceased), Dumisani Mahlangu and Jacob Mthombeni.

357 The officers expressed a particular interest in searching the staff room that belonged to the Shabangus’ elder brother, Mr George Shabangu [JB02849/01MPMOU]. Happy Shabangu unlocked the room and watched as the policemen searched the premises. One of the officers produced a firearm, alleging that he had found it on a ledge near the top of the wall in George’s room. Happy, however, was suspicious of the policeman’s claim as the gun had been recovered before the search was conducted. Nevertheless, she signed the policeman’s pocketbook to confirm the particulars of the weapon when instructed to do so. The policemen told Happy that the weapon implicated George in a recent robbery at the Moteti Top Sport Garage. Again, Happy’s suspicions were aroused, as she knew that the garage was owned by Mr Nyembe, her father’s close friend. As the policemen left the premises, Lucas and Stephen Shabangu were detained for further questioning.

358 The policemen proceeded to Matchiding, where Sergeant Mthombeni led them to the house of George Shabangu’s girlfriend, Ms Connie Mokwena. George was at the house and was also arrested and taken with his brothers to the Siyabuswa Murder and Robbery Unit.

359 On arrival, the younger brothers were placed in separate interrogation rooms across a garden from the room to which George was taken. Stephen was questioned twice regarding the gun. He stated then, and continues to affirm, that he had no knowledge of the gun. During a break in the questioning, Stephen witnessed two of the policemen, Dumisani Mahlangu and Eric Magagula, driving off in a pale brown minibus. When they returned some fifteen minutes later, Van Schalkwyk allegedly rushed to the combi to fetch a brown case. While Van Schalkwyk was on his way back to the room in which George was held, Stephen allegedly overheard the policeman say words to the effect that George was in for a hard time.

360 Shortly after Mahlangu, Magagula and Van Schalkwyk entered the room in which George was being held, Stephen and Lucas heard screams which they believe to have been from their brother. The screams lasted for approximately an hour before they suddenly ended. When the screams stopped, Mahlangu, Magagula and Mthombeni returned to Lucas and Stephen to take them home. When the brothers inquired after George, the policemen told them not to worry as he was in their care.

361 Later that night, Magagula and Van Schalkwyk returned to the Bundu Inn to report that George Shabangu had allegedly escaped that evening while pointing out an arms cache in the Marapong area. George Shabangu has not been seen since.

362 Four section 29 subpoena hearings were conducted with respect to the incident and several sworn affidavits were collected. A report on the Commission’s investigations into the disappearance of George Shabangu has been forwarded to the Attorney-General for consideration.

THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT MR RAMATUA NICHOLAS THLAPI WAS LAST SEEN IN THE CUSTODY OF THE POLICE BASED AT JOUBERTON POLICE STATION IN 1986. THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT HE WAS ASSAULTED AND TORTURED BY WARRANT OFFICER VILJOEN, SERGEANT MAKITI AND CONSTABLES TSELADIMITLWA, TSHWAEDI, MAJAJA AND MANO OF THE JOUBERTON SECURITY BRANCH. THE COMMISSION FINDS THE JOUBERTON SECURITY BRANCH RESPONSIBLE FOR MR THLAPI’S DISAPPEARANCE, AND FINDS THAT IN ALL PROBABILITY HE WAS KILLED BY THE JOUBERTON POLICE IN WHOSE CUSTODY HE WAS LAST SEEN. THLAPI’S DISAPPEARANCE AND DEATH CONSTITUTE GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION FOR WHICH THE COMMISSION HOLDS THE COMMISSIONER OF POLICE, THE HEAD OF THE SECURITY BRANCH AND THE MINISTER OF LAW AND ORDER RESPONSIBLE.
WITH RESPECT TO THE CASE OF MR GEORGE SHABANGU, THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT :
  • THE SEARCH OF MR SHABANGU’S ROOM ON 6 FEBRUARY 1987 BY WARRANT OFFICER ERIC MAGAGULA, CONSTABLE SJ KRITZINGER AND SERGEANTS ARNOLDUS VAN SCHALKWYK, SAM MPHELO, DUMISANI MAHLANGU AND JACOB MTHOMBENI OF THE KWANDEBELE POLICE WAS CONDUCTED ILLEGALLY.
  • MR SHABANGU WAS DETAINED BY THE KWANDEBELE POLICE FOR POLITICAL REASONS AND NOT, AS CLAIMED BY THE POLICE, TO INVESTIGATE AN ARMED ROBBERY AT A LOCAL GARAGE.
  • MR STEPHEN SHABANGU’S EYEWITNESS STATEMENT REGARDING EVENTS AT THE SIYABUSWA MURDER AND ROBBERY UNIT ARE IN ALL PROBABILITY AN ACCURATE ACCOUNT.
  • THE SIYABUSWA MURDER AND ROBBERY UNIT POSSESSED A BROWN LEATHER CASE CONTAINING AN ELECTRICAL DEVICE USED REGULARLY TO SHOCK DETAINEES DURING INTERROGATIONS.
THE COMMISSION FINDS IT UNLIKELY THAT THE POLICE WOULD HAVE CONDUCTED A NIGHT-TIME SEARCH FOR AN ARMS CACHE WITH A SUSPECT THEY CONSIDERED DANGEROUS – AND WITHOUT TAKING SHOVELS OR TORCHES. THE COMMISSION REJECTS THE ASSERTION BY THE KWANDEBELE POLICE THAT MR GEORGE SHABANGU ESCAPED WHILE POINTING OUT AN ARMS CACHE. THE COMMISSION HOLDS THE KWANDEBELE POLICE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MR SHABANGU ON 6 FEBRUARY 1987 AND FINDS THAT IN ALL PROBABILITY HE WAS KILLED BY THE KWANDEBELE POLICE, IN WHOSE CUSTODY HE WAS LAST SEEN. THE COMMISSION FINDS THE DISAPPEARANCE AND DEATH OF MR SHABANGU TO CONSTITUTE A GROSS VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, FOR WHICH THE HEAD OF THE KWANDEBELE POLICE MUST ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY.
 
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