Town on a knife-edge

Harriet Mclea

FICKSBURG is poised on a knife- edge. Emotions are running high and the tension threatens to boil over as six policemen arrested in connection with the brutal fatal assault on Ficksburg protester Andries Tatane are expected to appear in court today.

Thousands of angry residents, who have been baying for the blood of the policemen, are preparing to vent their anger at them in demonstrations outside the Ficksburg Magistrate’s Court.

Police reinforcements from Bloemfontein will descend on the town in the face of an already volatile situation.

Executive director of the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), Francois Beukman,  said yesterday the arrests followed a swift investigation by a top-level delegation, headed by  Free State ICD head Izzy Kgamanyana.

He said 14 police officers from the public order policing unit were initially interviewed, but only six were arrested. Beukman could not confirm the ranks of the officers, but said two of them would appear for murder while four could face charges of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

Tatane was beaten and shot dead, allegedly by a group of policemen, during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg on Wednesday.

Police beat Tatane with batons and allegedly fired rubber bullets into his chest.

He was seen holding his hand against his chest after the assault  and collapsed about 20 minutes later. He died before an ambulance arrived.

The residents of Meqheleng township were marching to the Ficksburg municipal offices to hand over a memorandum relating to service delivery issues when the incident took place.
The  assault – aired on prime-time TV news bulletins – shocked the nation.

ICD spokesperson Moses Dlamini would not comment on whether the ICD had viewed the television footage, but said: “We can’t talk about the details of the investigations [because] the case must still go to court.”

Dlamini said the ICD was working closely with the office of national Public Prosecutor Menzi Simelane and would hand over the docket to prosecutors once investigations were complete.  “There is support from the NPA in ensuring this case gets the attention it deserves,” Dlamini said.

Tatane’s brother, Lefu, said the family was relieved at the arrests, but it was cold comfort.

He praised the ICD for the speedy investigation, but believed it was only due to the intense  media coverage and explicit footage.

Lefu, together with Tatane’s wife, Rose, and his sister are expected to attend court today, but he said he dreaded sitting in the same room as the  alleged killers.

“I’m going to be very happy as long as I know who killed my brother. It’s not nice when you don’t know who the culprits are,” Lefu said.

He appealed to people to remain calm outside the court. “After the court proceedings, they must go home peacefully and not cause any havoc. That is what I have asked from [community leaders].”

He said the family wanted the law to take its course.

Free State police spokesperson Captain Harry Nagel said due to the community outrage following Tatane’s death, police from Bloemfontein’s public order policing unit were deployed to the area and would patrol outside the court.

Meqheleng Concerned Citizens chairperson Sam Motseare encouraged locals  “to support the family and attend the court case”, but appealed to them to remain peaceful.

Speaking at an ANC election rally in Daveyton, the party’s secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, condemned the policemen’s actions, saying: “People have the right to demonstrate. We cannot allow the police to be a law unto themselves. What happened in Ficksburg is a blot on our democracy. We shouldn’t be seeing incidents like these in this day and age.”

Struggle veteran Winnie Madikizela-Mandela said she was saddened by what had happened in Ficksburg.”

National police commissioner General Bheki Cele, who has peddled the “Shoot to kill” policy, said his department was conducting its own investigation into Tatane’s death.

“There is no need for people dying in ordinary activities that are political,” he said.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the law would  ensure any guilty party was “punished accordingly”.

A memorial service for Tatane will be held on Wednesday, with the funeral to follow on Saturday.

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