Day the cops cheered her father’s shooting

22 November 2015 - 02:00 By Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter

At 2pm on Tuesday February 3 2009, Ellen Mkhize and her daughter Zamambo were stuck in traffic on Umgeni Road, central Durban.

“We thought it was an accident,” says Zamambo. “Later on we realised it was actually a shooting.”

Then it hit her. “Mom, isn’t this dad’s car?”

Her father, taxi boss Bongani Mkhize, lay slumped in the driver’s seat of his bullet-riddled black Lexus. 

“We saw everything. We could see that he didn’t have an eye. We could see that his face was rearranged,” she says. “It was very bad. After that we had nightmares. We couldn’t sleep. We had to live on pills.”

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Mkhize was shot by members of the National Intervention and Cato Manor units.  They claimed he was a suspect in the shooting of Nkosi Mbongeleni Zondi, a close relative of President Jacob Zuma, and that he’d shot at them when they tried to arrest him.

Zamambo remembers the Cato Manor officers celebrating near  her father’s corpse.

“We saw them coming in with their cars, shaking hands, smiling, clapping. Basically they were celebrating.”

Evidence collected in a civil case the Mkhize family won against the police cast serious doubt on the Cato Manor officers’ version of events.

Three ballistics reports show all shots were fired at the vehicle and none from it. The bullet casings found in Mkhize’s Lexus didn’t match the gun next to him, which didn’t have any of his fingerprints.

Two witnesses interviewed by the Sunday Times said they saw Mkhize being executed. Their stories are corroborated by another two witnesses who made sworn statements. In addition, a police official has made an affidavit that she was on the phone to Mkhize when he was driving and being shot at.

This case was dealt with extensively in Johan  Booysen’s disciplinary hearing last year chaired by advocate Nazeer Cassim, who cleared Booysen of any wrongdoing.

But expert investigators interviewed, including a veteran detective and a ballistics expert, say Cassim’s reliance on powder residue on Mkhize’s body as an indication that he had fired at the police is misplaced. It is easy to transfer and is often used to try to frame suspects, they point out. 

Zamambo says her dad knew he was going to die. After five leaders of his taxi association were killed by the Cato Manor squad in just six weeks he obtained a restraining order to prevent them from killing him.

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“He went to the police and told them: ‘If I did something wrong you must take me in front of my lawyer. Do not shoot me’.” This didn’t save him.

A week before he died he summoned Zamambo, who was 21, for a talk. “We talked about family stuff, the house, cars, how to take care of the family if anything would happen to him. Who we should call and what we must do,” she recalls. “I was crying because I didn’t understand.”

Although the Mkhizes have won their civil case against the police they still want justice.

“They have to go to jail. It won’t bring my father back. But it will make us feel better that they [are] also getting something out of what they did.”

That her father’s killers are free to roam the streets leaves them feeling vulnerable and scared.

For two years after the shooting Ellen would wear a hijab to disguise herself.

“We know they are still out there. They know us. We don’t know them,” says Zamambo.

“If they decide to do anything to us no one will know. Now that we are pursuing the case we don’t know how angry they are because we are putting them into the fire. We are still scared, I won’t lie.”

Booysen declined to be interviewed.

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