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EXCLUSIVE | Hillary Gardee's suspected killer 'tortured' to implicate EFF's Floyd Shivambu — affidavit

Explosive statements to Independent Police Investigative Directorate reveal cops pursued bizarre claims

27 May 2022 - 11:25 By Graeme Hosken, Tankiso Makhetha and ARON HYMAN
Three suspects were arrested in connection with Hillary Gardee's murder.
Three suspects were arrested in connection with Hillary Gardee's murder.
Image: Hillary Gardee via Facebook
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Image: Nolo Moima

A suspect arrested in connection with the murder of Hillary Gardee was allegedly tortured by police to implicate Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) deputy president Floyd Shivambu in the April killing in Mpumalanga.

This is contained in a sworn statement deposed by Philemon Lukhele, one of three men arrested for Gardee’s murder, the daughter of former EFF secretary-general Godrich Gardee.

Lukhele's co-accused have made similar claims of torture, including waterboarding, suffocation and electric shocks.

Despite Shivambu being called by TimesLIVE more than three times for his comment, he has not responded. His WhatsApp profile shows he read the messages TimesLIVE sent to him. EFF spokesperson Sinawo Tambo said “at no time” did the police indicate Shivambu was a “person of interest”.

TimesLIVE is in possession of three statements made to Ipid by the three suspects arrested for Gardee's rape and murder — Lukhele, Albert Gama and Sipho Mkhatshwa. Ipid has confirmed their claims are being investigated.

Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brig Selvy Mohlala told TimesLIVE: “There was no torture by the police to the suspects. The investigation is still ongoing and the case is currently on the court roll, so unfortunately we will not be able to comment on the merits and processes of the investigation.”

On May 13, Lukhele and his co-accused deposed statements on their alleged torture by officers investigating Gardee’s murder to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).

Ipid spokesperson Lizzy Shuping said the investigation on the alleged torture was under way. “The complainants were interviewed. The investigation is still in its early stages.”

The statements give insight into the first frantic hours of the police’s investigation and how officers asked questions about Shivambu, without any indication of why or how he would have allegedly been involved.

Mkhatshwa, Lukhele and Gama, who are all in custody, were arrested after Gardee’s body was found dumped next to a pine plantation in Mpumalanga 40km outside Mbombela.

Gardee was kidnapped in Mbombela on April 29 while on her way home from the shops with her adopted three-year-old daughter.  Police believe she was murdered at a lodge owned by Lukhele which he rented out as accommodation for university students.

The three face a litany of charges including rape, murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

The statements reveal how, with officers seemingly unable to crack the case, they allegedly launched a brutal assault on the trio, including some of their relatives.

The torture allegedly included being given electric shocks, beatings, suffocation with plastic bags and waterboarding.

Lukhele, who told Ipid investigators he could identify some of his alleged assailants who tortured him over three days, in his statement details how he was arrested at his lodge where Gardee was allegedly killed.

I told them I only knew Floyd and Mkhatshwa. They asked when I last saw Floyd and Sipho. I told them I last saw Floyd five years ago … and Sipho four months ago. [I told them] I had no contact with Floyd
Philemon Lukhele

He said he was with a friend when he learnt police were at his lodge and that when he arrived he was allegedly beaten by officers who demanded to know if he knew Shivambu, Mkhatshwa and two other men.

“I told them I only knew Floyd and Mkhatshwa. They asked when I last saw Floyd and Sipho. I told them I last saw Floyd five years ago ... and Sipho four months ago. [I told them] I had no contact with Floyd.”

Questioned about Gardee and her murder at his lodge, Lukhele said if she had been killed there he would have known and have reported her death to the police.

“I told them I had only heard about her death on the news. Another group of officers came and said I was playing games with them.

“They handcuffed my hands and hit me with fists in my abdomen and demanded that I tell the truth.”

He said while being assaulted an officer shouted that he had found blood in his car and that it was the “blood of the Gardee girl”.

“I was hit with fists and the barrel of a firearm. I was taken to a police station. My younger brother Skhumbuzo was there, bleeding on the forehead. He said he was assaulted by the police. Skhumbuzo was taken away by the police.”

Held inside an office, Lukhele said his legs were shackled and a second set of handcuffs put on him with a rope tied to his hands and feet.

“They asked me about my involvement in the murder and that the murder was planned with Floyd Shivambu. They said I organised the people to kill her in my presence. They asked again about the involvement of Floyd Shivambu in the murder. I denied all of this.

“They made me lie on the floor on my stomach. My shoes were taken off. Something that generated electricity was plugged on my toes and electrocuted [shocked] me. They said I must give them a sign if I wanted to talk.”

Lukhele claimed in his statement that police repeatedly shocked him and demanded that he admit to the crimes and said that Mkhatshwa had implicated him.

“They continued electrocuting [shocking] me.”

He alleged officers stood on his neck and back demanding he admit to the killing and that when he again denied his involvement they took him to a toilet which he was made to sit next to, facing up, while an officer stood on his handcuffed hands and another poured water over this face with a bucket “demanding I tell the truth”.

“They put a plastic bag against my face and suffocated me. This was done many times ... I lost consciousness.”

Lukhele said when he regained consciousness “I was made to sign a certain paper without explanation”.

He alleged that on the second day of his detention officers told him they were giving him a chance to come clean and that there was a team of officers who would hurt him worse than what he had already endured.

“I maintained my innocence.”

Mkhatshwa: 'I was suffocated and shocked'

Mkhatshwa, in his statement, claims on the day of his arrest he was awoken during the early hours of the morning by police beating on the window of his home threatening to shoot him if he did not open up for them.

“When my wife asked what they were beating me for they insulted her and told her that they didn’t care that she was pregnant and that they would beat her as well.”

Mkhatshwa claims he was forced to take them to the homes of two of his friends, including a teacher who was later arrested at a nearby school.

He said they were taken to a police station, where his interrogation and beatings continued.

“I was asked questions such as why I thought the police were there. I informed them that I was not aware, as they had not told me. The beatings then started all over again, [with the officers] saying I was making them [look like] fools.”

Mkhatshwa said officers did not believe him when he told them he worked for the Ekurhuleni municipality and questioned him over his money lending business.

As I struggled to breathe, some of the police officials would press the plastic closer to my mouth and nose so that I could not breathe. The electric machine to which my toes were connected was also used
Sipho Mkhatshwa

He alleged that when he gave the officers a response that they did not like he was beaten.

“They began to ask me what I knew about a recent murder, to which I responded I knew nothing ... They began to connect my small toes to a machine ... As I was lying face down, they placed a plastic [bag] on my head right down to my neck ...

“As I struggled to breathe, some of the police officials would press the plastic closer to my mouth and nose so that I could not breathe. The electric machine to which my toes were connected was also used.

“Each time they asked me a question and I responded honestly, I would be suffocated and electrocuted [shocked]. I said what they wanted me to say.”

He alleged the officers then offered him a confession statement.

Mkhatshwa said he was taken to the Mpumalanga police headquarters, where another officer questioned him about what he had said.

“I told him what I had said under torture and I was open to stating what was true. I was made to sign the statement of alleged confession to murder implicating innocent people to something myself I know nothing about.”

Gama: 'They also shocked me on my feet'

In his statement, Gama claimed that when he arrived at a police station in Mbombela he saw Lukhele’s younger brother, Skhumbuzo, “who was bleeding”.

He said while in a room at the police station he could hear Lukhele “screaming and crying in the other room.”

Gama said he was taken from the room he was in and into the room Lukhele had been inside.

“The police officials told me Lukhele told them everything. They told me I would tell them the truth.

“One put handcuffs on my hands at my back and the other put a plastic bag on my face. They also shocked me ... on my feet. They also beat me with fists all over my body and kicked me.”

Lukhele and Gama’s legal team said they were “sensitive and alive to the pain the Gardee family is going through. They are innocent of the charges.

“The allegations stated by our clients in their affidavit to Ipid will be ventilated in court. It's enough for us to confirm that the Ipid statement is indeed their statement.”

The EFF's Tambo said: “There was never any point in time where any law enforcement agency, be it the police or the commissioners or their deputies, indicated to us that the deputy president of the EFF was a person of interest.

“That was never disclosed, not to the EFF, nor to the family that Floyd Shivambu is a person of interest. It’s just concerning that if there were claims of torture they claimed that there was a persistence of driving it to a certain direction. What would be the purpose of that?”

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