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Court hears police’s white, weak rubber bullets cannot kill a person in Ntumba's shooting trial

Mpho Koka Journalist
Former police officer Capt Mkhanyiseli Shange testifying in the high court in Johannesburg.
Former police officer Capt Mkhanyiseli Shange testifying in the high court in Johannesburg.
Image: Thulani Mbele

Public order police’s white, weak rubber bullets cannot kill a person when they are fired.

This is according to the commander who was in charge of the patrol operation on the day Mthokozisi Ntumba was killed, allegedly by the police.

Capt Mkhanyiseli Shange, a former police officer, was testifying in the high court in Johannesburg on Tuesday in the trial against four police officers accused of shooting Ntumba.

Shange, with 35 years experience in the police, said Ntumba’s murder case is the first case he has ever encountered where the police’s white, weak rubber bullets are alleged to have killed a person.

Last month, an Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) investigating officer said six white rubber bullet cartridges belonging to public order police were found on the scene on the day Ntumba was shot.

According to the state, Ntumba was shot in the chest.

Shange, who was attached to the public order policing unit in Diepkloof, Soweto, was one of the commanders who were in charge of the patrol operation on March 10 when Ntumba was shot during a student protest over historic debt and non-registration.

The two commanders also had to control the students and give instructions to the officers on the ground.

During cross-examination, Emmanuel Netshipise, the lawyer for accused No 2, Cidraas Motseothatha, 43, asked Shange whether public order police's white, weak rubber bullets are capable of killing a person.

“Col [Jacob] Beeslaar and [Lt-Col Busisiwe] Moeketsi  told this court that white, weak rubber bullets that you use as public order police cannot kill a person. They said this is the first time they are dealing with a case of murder involving white, weak rubber bullets. What do you have to say about that?” asked Netshipise.

Shange agreed and said it was the first time he had dealt with a matter of this nature. “White, weak rubber bullets cannot kill a person,” said Shange.

Netshipise asked Shange if he was aware of white, weak rubber bullets shot by police at students on the day of the incident and none of them died.

“Public order police used these white, weak rubber bullets when they shot at the students at a distance of 10m on Jorissen Street and no-one died. Are you aware of that?”

Shange said he was not aware of this particular shooting incident.

“In your 35 years of experience, I am sure there were instances where you used white, weak rubber bullets at a distance of 3m, 5m and no-one died?” asked Netshipise.

Shange agreed with Netshipise’s assertion.

Last month, Beeslaar told the court that public order police should fire rubber bullets to the ground more than 20m away from their intended target and it should ricochet into the legs and not the upper body.

Beeslaar, who is from the public order policing unit in Diepkloof and has been a police officer for 38 years, told the court what their regulations say about how police should use rubber bullets as a form of crowd control.

“Rubber rounds are classified as minimal force. The reason they should be skip-fired and bounce on the ground, targeting the legs of the people, is because this will reduce the possibilities of serious injury. The chances of fatal shooting is less when a person is hit on the legs than the upper body,” said Beeslaar.

Officers Motseothatha, Tshepiso Kekana, 27, Madimetja Legodi, 37, and Victor Mohammed, 51, face charges of murder and three counts of attempted murder and have pleaded not guilty.  

The trial continues.  

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