11 February 2014

Swaziland: Swazi Police Shoot-to-Kill On Bus

A plain-clothed policeman shot an unarmed man in the back killing him while on a public bus in the latest of a catalogue of police killings in Swaziland.

The man had allegedly stolen some copper wire before boarding the bus, travelling from Siteki, in eastern Swaziland to Manzini.

The Times Sunday newspaper reported the driver of the bus Majahonke Zikalala saying, 'the man was attempting to force his way out of the bus, the police officer shot him in the back, near the spine... the man fell on the floor after which he was handcuffed while he bled'. He died of his injures at the scene.

The killing is the latest in a long line of shootings by police in Swaziland who are thought to be following a shoot-to-kill policy.

In March 2013, Swaziland police shot a man dead in front of his 11-year-old child as he held his hands up in an attempt to surrender to them.

Thokozani Mngometulu, aged 31, was killed as he got out of his car at his homestead in Dlakadla, in the Shiselweni region of Swaziland. Thokozani's family, who also witnessed the killing, say he was shot in the pelvis at close range by a police officer.

In June 2012, a serial rapist suspect Bhekinkhosi Masina, popularly known as Scarface, was shot by police as they cornered him for arrest. Police say they only shot him in the thigh and he unexpectedly died of his injuries. The Times of Swaziland newspaper later revealed he had been shot six times, including in the head and back.

In a separate incident, a mentally ill man, Mduduzi Mngometulu, aged 34, was shot seven times by police and died of his injuries. He had four holes in his stomach, one in the leg and two bullet wounds on the left side of his chest.

These are not isolated incidents in Swaziland where police have a growing record of killing or maiming suspects before arrest. The cases have largely gone unreported outside of the kingdom itself.

In one example, police executed a suspect, Thabani Mafutha Dlamini, at Nkwalini in Hlatikulu in the presence of his colleagues and home boys in what local media called 'cowboy style'. The Swazi Observer newspaper reported the incident in December 2011 saying, 'Police had previously warned the mother of the dead man to "budget for funeral expenses" as they intended to remove him. He was said to be on a police "wanted list"'. Dlamini was unarmed.

In a separate case in February 2011, a Swazi policeman shot Mbongeni Masuku, described in media as a Form IV pupil, in the head in what was later described as 'an execution-style killing'.

The killing happened outside a bar in Matsapha, an industrial town in Swaziland.

Masuku's uncle Sigayoyo Maphanga said Mbongeni had been dragged out of his car by police. He told the Swazi Observer, a policeman whom he named, 'shot my nephew at the back of the left ear and he fell on the ground with blood oozing from his mouth and ears. We were all shocked and angered by such brutality from police officers.'

In a separate case in May 2011, Mathende Matfonsi was shot dead by police while he was attending a field of dagga, inside the remote forests of Lomahasha near the border with Mozambique.

His family accused the police of 'cold-blooded murder'. Matfonsi was shot dead at Ebhandeni, the same area where Nkosinathi Khathwane had previously been shot dead by soldiers at night.

The police told residents that Matfonsi fired at them and they shot back. The family said he was unarmed.

In March 2010, police shot a man as he was trying to surrender to them. This time the victim, Mncedisi Mamba, did not die. His mother, Thoko Gamedze, said Mamba had his hands up and was surrendering to police, but they shot him anyway.

It is not only crime suspects who get shot at. In June 2013, police fired live bullets and teargas as children protested against alleged corruption at Mhubhe High School in Ngculwini Police were called after school pupils boycotted classes.

Local media reported police were armed with rifles and pistols. Gun shots were fired at the pupils after police drove them away from the school, but they tried to return.

Legitimate protestors are also targets. In February 2012, a woman at a protest march in Siteki, called by vendors and transport operators over plans by the town hall to move the local bus rank, was shot in the hand as she walked away from police. Reports said she was only 2 metres away from police when they fired.

Police in Swaziland also shoot innocent bystanders. In May 2012, a student was shot in the leg by police as they tried to break up a protest at the Limkokwing private university in Mbabane.

The 23-year-old was not part of the protest and was caught in crossfire, according to human rights activists in the kingdom.

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