Today, August 27, is the third anniversary since Constable Francis Rasuge went missing. She has since been declared dead. Her former boyfriend is serving a life sentence for her murder despite her body never being found. ANDREW MOLEFE, retraces the mystery that touched the raw nerve of a crime-weary nation.
Exactly three years ago, a young police constable disappeared after visiting a local hair salon.
Now officially declared dead, the remains of Constable Francis Rasuge will, in all likelihood, forever be entombed in mystery.
It would have taken the 27-year-old Rasuge less than 30 minutes to leisurely stroll to the salon owned by Desmond Mkhonto, a couple of blocks from her Temba family home outside Hammanskraal.
She reached the salon. As always, Mkhonto cut her hair and saw her getting into a car parked outside the gate. Behind the wheel was William Nkuna, a man who was something of a legend in the township.
Mkhonto was the last member of the public to see her - dead or alive. A day passed and Rasuge did not return home. Then another. Then days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and months turned into years.
Initially, the case of a missing junior police officer went unnoticed, until the media nosed in on the story.
Sowetan, in particular, turned the Rasuge case into a sustained campaign against crime. The newspaper maintained a dedicated space where it kept readers up to date on the developments, and counted down on the number of days she had been missing.
The general public took up the cudgel, with many pointing out the contradiction between the Rasuge investigation and that of another girl who was abducted and murdered, Leigh Matthews.
Why was the Matthews case given such high-profile attention and resolved so quickly where the Rasuge case remained a file buried deep beneath other files.
Was it because Matthews was white and Rasuge black? Radio talk shows were on fire.
Initially, a ragtag team of ordinary police officers from Rasuge's own station were put on the case, but were later taken off.
On one side of Temba township, there is a motorway circle. Inside that park-like circle are trees and benches. At this place called the "people's parliament" and frequented by the township's youth with some cash to burn, it is like weekend every afternoon. Shiny cars park around the ring, liquor flows and some real gossip goes on until deep into the night.
I spent a week there in pursuit of the William Nkuna legend. I had to distribute a lot of cash to jolt memories.
With loosened tongues, I learnt that Nkuna was one of the township's "untouchables". Even the local cops were said to be in awe of the man they called "Hookza".
"Hookza was not adverse to buying whole barrels of Kentucky and have them delivered to the police station. Everyone, from the top to a junior cop, were in debt to him. Now how did they expect the local police to investigate him?" said one resident.
With no headway and the case thrown out of court by a local magistrate, the Temba team was eventually replaced by a crack team of hardened and experienced detectives handpicked from across the vast North West.
Under the leadership of Superintendent Nick Ditshwane, nine officers took up the investigation.
Pressure was mounting.
Ditshwane and his team only slept a few winks at a time for months. They missed birthdays of loved ones. They rarely spent more than a couple of days in one place. They lived on takeaways. They dug graves and swam the fetid swamps.
They fielded - and investigated - crank calls from weirdos who wanted their names in print and charlatan sangomas with an eye on the ultimate jackpot - the money the police offered to anyone leading them to Rasuge's body.
But despite the reward being increased from R50000 to a mouth-watering R500000, the majority of Temba residents who knew both Francis Rasuge and William Nkuna, were struck by an outbreak of amnesia.
The names of Rasuge and Nkuna didn't ring a bell. Anyone who spoke, did so anonymously.
"Nkuna," they whispered, "is a powerful man in his own way. To make matters worse, he has an uncle who is very strong when it comes to traditional medicine."
"What happened to that man from the salon?" they asked reporters, "You tell us."
Mkhonto, the last person to see Rasuge at his salon the day she disappeared, fell mysteriously ill two days after giving a TV interview in which he fingered Nkuna as the driver of the car that took Rasuge away.
Five days later, he died at Jubilee Hospital.
The supercops kept on knocking on doors. They kicked down doors. They pleaded and cajoled. But Rasuge's body remained a phantom that haunted their daily lives.
Then heavyweights from the national government began putting the screws on their provincial counterparts.
The provincial suits transferred that pressure to the provincial police chiefs.
Without the body, Ditshwane and his team strung together a credible case against Nkuna, enough to have a conviction.
They presented a convincing argument.
First, Nkuna admitted he picked up Rasuge from the salon, but claimed he later dropped her at a taxi rank.
Then forensics found blood stains in his car with a 99percent DNA match to Rasuge's parents.
He didn't deny it was Rasuge's blood, but countered that it might have been the result of a hectic love-making session in the car.
A coup de grace was evidence produced linking Nkuna to cash withdrawals using Rasuge's bank account days after her disappearance.
For the better part of the trial, Nkuna was represented by controversial lawyer, Post Moloto.
On November 17 2005 Nkuna was led to the Mmabatho circuit court in Ga-Rankuwa where Judge Ronald Henricks labelled him a "blatant and pathetic" liar and jailed him for life.
Showing no emotion, except a a shy smile to reporters, William Nkuna took with him the secret of his lover's remains. He still holds it.