Man implicated in Gabisile Shabane’s murder says cops beat him to confess
A man whose fingerprint was allegedly found on a piece of a broken window at the home of Gabisile Shabane — a child with albinism who was murdered allegedly for her body parts — wants the court to disregard the confession statement he made to police, saying it was made under duress.
Knowledge Wezi Mhlanga is one of three men standing trial in the high court sitting in Middelburg for the abduction and murder of 13-year-old Shabane and her 15-month-old nephew, Nkosikhona Ngwenya, in January 2018.
It is alleged that Shabane was killed and her body parts harvested for use in muti meant to enrich a person while Ngwenya was tossed into a swamp and drowned shortly after his kidnapping. This was allegedly after the kidnappers realised they had mistaken him for another child with albinism living in the same home.
A trial-within-a-trial ensued last week as Mhlanga opposed the confession statement and the pointing out of places where the kidnappings and killings happened being entered into evidence.
The judge is expected to deliver his ruling on Tuesday morning.
Mhlanga claimed he was assaulted and suffocated by officers who were interrogating him, adding that all he had given to the commissioning officers was what he had been coached to say.
When he took the stand, he was swaying from side to side and his hands were clenched. He grinned nervously as he told the court that he was uneasy by what was unfolding and could not keep still.
“I am trying to contain myself but I am trembling because I am frightened,” Mhlanga told the court.
He testified that he did not tell the officer who was taking down his statement about the assault, nor did he tell the one who took him on the “pointing out” exercise.
“He is also a cop so I was not sure which cop I could trust. I decided I would address it in court,” he said of the elderly police officer who took his statement.
“There is someone I told though. I told Mr Sibisi, the attorney who was representing me in a lower court. When we went to court, he mentioned it. I think it was during the bail application but the prosecutor dismissed it. Sibisi promised me that this was not the last of the matter and it would come back again at a later stage,” he said.
He claimed he was almost assaulted again by another police officer when he was brought into the Witbank police station. This officer had alleged that he was the one whose picture was circulated in the newspapers.
“She wanted to slap me and the officer stopped her, saying there are cameras in this office,” he said.
The picture he was referring to was published by TimesLIVE in 2018. It was an identikit image put together by Shabane’s mother and sister Nompumelelo, who was Ngwenya’s mother.
Shabane’s mother, Anna, had at the time said she had noticed the man in the identikit watching her daughter as she walked back from school for several days in a row. He would at times stand facing the door of the house from the street.
The picture published bore some resemblance to Mhlanga.
Under cross-examination in the trial-within-a-trial, Mhlanga could not tell the court how long his alleged assault lasted.
“I would not be able to say because when the plastic bag was put over my head, it felt like it happened forever,” he said.
He told the court that he lied to the officer who took down his statement when he said the injury to his ankle had happened a few days earlier when he slipped on the road.
Instead, he said: “I sustained the injuries on my left ankle when they were torturing me. I kicked whenever they put the plastic over my face.”
Prosecutor Ntsika Mpolweni said the officers took pictures of Mhlanga’s injuries prior to him being taken on the “pointing out” exercise and the injury on his leg was also noted.
“If the police wanted to hide his injuries, they would not have taken pictures at all in order to conceal the assault,” Mpolweni said, adding that at least two officers had been told by Mhlanga on two separate incidents that the injury on his leg was old.
“It casts a doubt of whether there was an assault or suffocation on accused two by the police,” said Mpolweni, asking the court to not believe this.
He said it was also strange that the attorney at the lower court did not advise him to open a case against the officers who had assaulted him.
“The only thing that is acceptable is that there were no injuries nor was he tortured into making a statement,” Mpolweni said.
“The court should reject his version that he was suffocated by any police officer and that he was given a version to tell the commissioning officers and that he was taken to certain places where he was then ordered to point [out],” he added.
Mhlanga’s lawyer told the court there were two legs to the proceedings — the first being whether he was tortured and the second whether he was given a version to give to the commissioning officers.
“The trial of accused two could be rendered unfair for the following reason: the violation of his rights was severe. He testified that he realised that his life was in the hands of police. Also, the conduct of the police was deliberate and flagrant. They made accused two do the pointing out within 18 hours of arrest — before he even appeared in court [for the first time],” she said.