Article by: Vincent Lali – First published on groundup.org.za
Residents demonstrating outside Lingelethu West police station in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, on Tuesday demanded that police officers – alleged to have beaten a 22-year-old intellectually disabled man be arrested
Sipho Mpinda was arrested at Khayelitsha Mall and transported to Lingelethu West last Thursday. Police notified the family a few days later that he had died after he was hit by a truck.
Scores of demonstrating residents blocked the entrance to the station.
Singing struggle songs, they waved placards that read: “Killers of Sipho must fall” and “Sipho was a breadwinner”.
Community leader Theodora Luthuli addressed the crowd and called on Police Minister Bheki Cele to dismiss the police officers allegedly responsible for Mpinda’s death.
A witness told GroundUp that after Mpinda got out of the police van, “two police officers threw him down and dragged him through the entrance to the police station”.
She said: “I was shocked to see blood flow from a huge bloodied lump on his head and drench his Kaizer Chiefs jersey.”
Loyiso Feke, a friend, said Mpinda had accompanied him to the mall to buy birthday gifts for his baby. As usual, Mpinda had waited next to the car.
“When I returned from the shops, I saw his reflector vest next to a rubbish bin and his cap lying close by, and I asked [the security] guards where he was … They told me that Lingelethu West cops had arrested him,” added Feke.
The security guards told him police had beaten Mpinda.
“I asked why they arrested him, and they said they caught him trying to break into a car,” said Feke.
When he asked which car Mpinda was accused of trying to break into, they showed Feke his own car.
Nceba Xhosana, a neighbour, said the 22-year-old’s death had broken her heart “because he loved me very much”.
Xhosana said Lingelethu West cops had told Mpinda’s family on Monday that Lentegeur cops had found his body after a truck hit him.
They asked the family to go to the state mortuary in Salt River to identify him, he added.
Xhosana said: “We asked the cops who saw the truck that hit Mpinda, but they don’t tell us … the whole community and I blame the cops for his death because they arrested him and took him away from the mall.”
Zwelethemba Mene, also a neighbour, said he had asked the Lingelethu West police about Mpinda’s whereabouts on Friday. “The police said they let him go because he was too strong for them. I asked them why they let him go even though they could see he was mentally handicapped,” said Mene.
Nokhaya Mthengeli, a member of the SST Neighbourhood Watch in Town Two, said: “The police showed us his docket and said they noticed he was mentally disturbed after fingerprinting and photographing him and decided to release him.”
Protesting residents handed a memorandum of demands to Warrant Officer Michael Shosha, Warrant Officer Thando Heni and Captain George Muller at Lingelethu police station.
No money for food, clothes
“I feel sad that my son has died. Sipho and I were close and used to love each other,” said Nomakhaya Makeleni.
She said she, her neighbours and relatives had gone in search of Mpinda until 03:00 on Friday looking for him at Enkanini informal settlement, Harare, and near the Lingelethu West police station.
“On Saturday, we put up Sipho’s photos in Enkanini and Harare and shouted over a loudspeaker for residents to help us find him. Throughout the search, the police never assisted or supported us,” she said.
“I want the relevant authorities to dig up the truth about the death of my son and bring the culprits to justice,” Makeleni said.
“I used to use his money to buy food and clothes. Now that he is dead, we will starve.”
“Sipho used his disability grant to support seven members of his family. I don’t know who will buy them food now,” said Litha Yolelo, a neighbour.
“When his disability grant money ran out, the family used to beg neighbours for food.”
Mpinda’s mother said the family had no money to bury Mpinda.
In response to GroundUp‘s questions, Western Cape police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andrè Traut said Mpinda had been arrested on June 6 by police officers “on the grounds that he was seen trying to break into a vehicle at a mall in Khayelitsha”.
“Upon their arrival at the police station with the 22-year-old man, it was discovered that he was mentally challenged, and the members decided to take him to a medical institution.
“As he was no longer deemed a suspect due to the circumstances, he was not handcuffed while being escorted. While leaving the police station the man managed to run away.
“Later that evening, the man was reported as missing by his family. All endeavours by police to locate him were unsuccessful, and his body was discovered at the morgue the next day.
“He was allegedly involved in an accident, which is currently under investigation by the Lentegeur police station.”
Traut said an internal investigation was also under way.