This sixth installment in a series on police violence investigates the murder of 19-year-old Tyrone Moeng, who was surprised by the police while asleep in a shack and killed when he tried to escape.
Tyrone Moeng was only 19 when he became the fifth person to be killed by the police during the Covid-19 lockdown. Moeng's death did not make the news and his name has been unknown until now. He was only referred to in an Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) presentation to Parliament as "CAS 40/04/2020".
On the night of 13 April, the Northern Cape teenager was asleep with a friend in his shack in Sternham about 2km from Groblershoop. Police officers banged on the door. He pushed out a side panel of the shack and ran away but the Police shot him as he fled and he died from his wounds.
The Ipid presentation to Parliament notes that Moeng "was wanted for malicious damage to property and the violation of lockdown regulations", but does not go into more details.
Moeng's uncle, Willem Izaks, says nobody from the police or Ipid has visited the family to talk about his nephew's killing. Izaks can only guess that whatever crime the police alleged Moeng had committed must have happened earlier in the day. By the time the officers arrived at Moeng's shack, he was already asleep.
"Ons is baie hartseer. Ons kan nie die polisie vertrou nie. Hulle het kom klop aan die deur waar Tyrone bly by die huis. En after that, toe klop hulle by die huis weer, gaan Tyrone agter by die huis uit, en toe sien hulle hom, toe skiet hulle hom. Tyrone was besig om te escape, because Tyrone will niks met die polisie baklei nie, dis waarom hy weggehardloop het. [We are very heartsore. We cannot trust the police. They came to knock on the door where Tyrone was staying. After that, they knocked again, and Tyrone went out the back, and they saw him, and they shot him. Tyrone was busy trying to escape because he did not want to fight with the police, that is why he ran away]," says Izaks.
The Ipid parliamentary presentation, which is not an official report on Moeng's killing but a summary of what the police say happened that night, states that when officers went to arrest Moeng, he "allegedly broke and opened the side of his shack and attempted to stab the police officers ... One of the police officers then fired a warning shot and a second fired shot wounded the suspect who later died on the scene."
Izaks says the family has been trying to piece together what happened. A witness told him that Moeng did not try to stab anyone because when he heard the police knocking, he was focused on breaking through the back of his shack and running away.
"Tyrone was very young. We feel very, very bad about this. It is wrong and strange in our community for the police to shoot someone at home. They woke him up while he was busy sleeping," says Izaks.
Community in shock
Groblershoop is part of the !Kheis Local Municipality. With a population of fewer than 5 000 people at the last census and the nearest town 118km away, it is isolated and seldom in the public eye. Its impoverished areas are dotted with shacks made of reeds and zinc, which is inadequate to shield residents from Groblershoop's hot summers and cold winters.
"Poverty and social ills such as substance abuse and teenage pregnancies are rife. Work is largely seasonal in nature and is found mainly on the surrounding grape and cattle farms," according to researcher Faeza Khan.
A solar power project in some parts of the municipality in 2014 is said to have improved residents' lives somewhat, but a lockdown fundraising effort by a former resident indicates that the area still battles for resources. "The !Kheis community is poverty-stricken. The community does not always have access to water and basic necessities to fight the Covid-19 virus. We are raising funds for hand sanitiser and soap for every household in the !Kheis Municipal area to fight the spread of Covid-19 virus," says fundraising material.
In this bleak environment, the death of Moeng has left his parents, brother and sister bereft, says his uncle. The family is gathering more information to open a case against the police but need to retain the services of a pro-bono attorney to assist them.
The family knows the police officer who killed Moeng and they see him still walking around. According to Ipid, the unnamed officer "has since been placed on special leave while the investigation is continuing".
Two months on, the family still cannot believe Moeng was shot for no reason.
"Dit was nie nodig om hom te skiet. Hulle kan hom arrest. Ons wil 'n eis sit teen die polisie nou. Ons wil 'n saak maak. Ons het baie seer gekry, die familie. Ons het baie, baie seer gekry. Ons is baie kwaad vir die polisie. [It was not necessary to shoot him. They could have arrested him. We want to make a claim against the police now. We want to open a case. We hurt a lot as the family. We are very, very hurt. We are very angry with the police]," says Izaks.
The Groblershoop police station would not comment and referred all questions to provincial police spokesperson Captain Sergio Kock, who referred all queries to Ipid.
Ipid spokesperson Ndileka Cola said the directorate had completed its investigation in June. "The recommendations were sent to SAPS [South African Police Service]. They will be made public once a final decision has been made on the matter." It is not clear when this will happen.