deadly hiding in police cells

Frank Maponya

A man has died in hospital a few days after being assaulted while in police custody.

Boccacio Mabokhana Wisani Mahlathi was allegedly arrested on suspicion of stealing car reams and tyres from a scrap yard in Tzaneen.

He was arrested at his workplace in Nkowa Nkowa on March 15.

Police claimed at the time that they were only going to take a statement from him, but he was later locked in the holding cells at the Ritavi police station.

Mahlathi, 28, was then released the following day without being charged. This was after the owner of the scrap yard confirmed to police that Mahlathi did not steal the items but had bought them from him.

But when he was released, Mahlathi was in pain, apparently as a result of the beatings from fellow inmates.

His sister, Tirhani, said they went to fetch Mahlathi at the police station after he called them to say he was in pain.

She said they found him lying in pain without anyone attending to him.

"Realising that he was in too much pain, we took him to a local doctor for treatment," Tirhani said.

She said the doctor referred Mahlathi to hospital because his condition was serious.

"My brother had bruises all over his body. He told us he was assaulted the whole night by inmates without police coming in to assist," she said.

He spent the whole week at the Letaba Hospital, and later died as a result of the injuries on his body last Saturday.

"What is worse is that police do not accept responsibility for the death of my brother.

"He obviously would not have died had they not insisted on arresting him despite him telling the truth," she said.

She said they wanted police management to pay for the actions of their members.

According to Tirhani, Mahlathi leaves behind a two-month-old baby.

Spokesperson for the provincial police Senior Superintendent Motlafela Mojapelo said the case had been referred to the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) for further investigations.

He said they had since charged two of the inmates with Mahlathi's murder.

By late yesterday, ICD's Dikeledi Phiri said she had not received the report on the matter.