South Africa: Family Mourns Alleged Carolina Spar Beating Victim

25 September 2020

The Sibanyoni family in Carolina, Mpumalanga, is mourning the death of Thulani, who was allegedly beaten and severely wounded along with his friend by local Spar managers in a storeroom.

Lindo Moshoeshoe, 19, is a defender for Passion FC, one of the football teams in the town of Carolina, Mpumalanga. She has played for a provincial team twice, in 2015 and 2018. She dreams of playing for the senior national women's team, Banyana Banyana, and becoming one of their best footballers.

Moshoeshoe's mother died in 2010 when Moshoeshoe was nine years old. Before she died, she asked her brother, Thulani Joseph Sibanyoni, 35, to look after Moshoeshoe. And now he is gone, too.

Sibanyoni died from serious head injuries after two managers at the Spar supermarket in Carolina - Willem Viljoen, 32, and Hannes Terblanche, 29 - allegedly assaulted him and a friend, Thabiso Elvis Sibanyoni, 22, in a storeroom. The managers have been charged with murder, assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm and kidnapping. A third man, Obi Nortjié, 32, who works for a private security company, has been charged with kidnapping.

According to Sibanyoni's family, he told them before he died that one of the cashiers at the store had called him and Thabiso "nyaope boys". This interaction, which took place on 14 August, apparently caused friction. But at the accused's bail hearing on 16 September, defence advocate Piet Pistorius told the magistrate's court that the cashier "revealed that [she was] being threatened by the victims because she was reporting them to the management [for stealing in the store]".

However, during his testimony, investigating officer Sergeant Charles Mokoena said the cashier only mentioned in her statement that she had been threatened and there had been "no point about theft in Spar". Under cross-examination, Pistorius asked Mokoena how he knew Sibanyoni had been assaulted by the managers. Mokoena responded that the details were contained in Thabiso's statement.

In Thabiso's statement, which Mokoena read to the court, he said Viljoen and Terblanche, accompanied by Nortjé, tracked him down in town and drove him to Spar's storeroom, where they allegedly beat him up "with a tonfa [baton] and sticks". He said when the men were done assaulting him, they drove with him to find and identify Sibanyoni, who was also taken to the storeroom and beaten up. Thabiso was then "instructed" to take his friend away from the storeroom. "When I looked at him, he was bleeding and falling [and couldn't walk]," Thabiso said in his statement.

'His health deteriorated'

Mokoena told the court Thabiso followed the instructions to take Sibanyoni away from the storeroom. Because his friend couldn't walk, he left him in the street to look for help. When he returned, Sibanyoni was no longer there as he had been admitted to the Carolina Provincial Hospital. Owing to the severity of his injuries, Sibanyoni was transferred to the Witbank Hospital in Emalahleni, where he remained for more than a week.

Sibanyoni's family told New Frame that he was discharged from hospital on 25 August, the day before his birthday. On 27 August, he went to the police station in Carolina to open a case of assault. Mokoena explained in court that later that day, Sibanyoni's health deteriorated. He couldn't walk and his head was "oozing a yellowish substance".

Sibanyoni's family also recounted how his head had been swollen and had an open wound. "I am dying for something that I did not do, but God knows everything," he told his mother, Meisie Sibanyoni. "He was coughing blood and his head was swollen as if it were two heads," she recalled. He was subsequently readmitted to the Carolina Hospital and again transferred to the Witbank Hospital. Meisie said she received a call from the hospital on 1 September and was told that Sibanyoni had died.

Moshoeshoe said she loved her uncle very much. "We had a good relationship and no one understood him like me. I took him like my father since I have never had a chance in my life to enjoy moments with a father figure," she said. "When I would play football, he'd support me and tried by all means to provide [for me]. I've lost a mother, a friend and a father."

She said whenever her name was mentioned on the radio, Sibanyoni would excitedly ask everyone he met in the streets, "Did you hear my child who plays football?"

Sibanyoni's death has left the family and their community saddened and angry, and they want justice to be served.

Arrested for assault, kidnapping and murder

On 4 September, the police arrested Viljoen, Terblanche and Nortjé. "According to my knowledge, the murder and assault charges were withdrawn [against] Obi," said Andre de Vos, the operational director of Vossies Security, for which Nortjé works. "It is only kidnapping now. It is only now the two members of Spar that are [facing] the three counts.

"From our side, we consulted with the family. We assisted with the funeral. On Friday [11 September], we wanted to have a meeting with the family, but an older brother said we can't continue. We want to assist the family on a monthly basis. We want to give sustainable assistance," said De Vos, adding, "My guy will stay innocent until proven guilty. I will assist the family even after ... my guy is proven innocent."

Mark Begley, the managing director of Intrax Investments, which owns the Carolina Spar, said in an email that the company was "shocked and saddened by reports from the police that one of the alleged victims had died ... We immediately sought to assist the police in their investigation, and we therefore continue to assist the police to ensure justice prevails and that anyone found to have broken the law suffers the full consequences of their actions," said Begley.

"Our regular engagement with the community and family during this difficult time included bringing in two strong black managers to run the store, firing the security company, immediately suspending those allegedly involved, the financial support of the family, community programmes and our ongoing assistance in the investigation to ensure justice prevails."

Contested bail application

On the day of the accused's bail application, a group of residents gathered outside the magistrate's court from early morning. A Black Lives Matter banner was displayed on the palisade fence of the court and members of the community carried placards that read "No bail for killers... Enough is enough".

Pistorius, who represents Viljoen and Terblanche, asked magistrate Sekgothe Madiba to grant bail to the pair, saying they were first-time offenders. He argued that the investigation was still in "baby shoes", which Mokoena vehemently refuted, saying "a lot has been done".

"There is no substance that they will not return to court," argued Pistorius. "My clients are not a flight risk and they are willing to do anything [the court requires]." Prosecutor Mbukiso Khumalo asked Mokoena why he opposed bail for the accused. Mokoena said that apart from the three counts they would face, they would also be charged with defeating the ends of justice because they had tampered with crucial evidence by instructing that the victims' blood be cleaned from the floor of the storeroom. He said this meant the police could not swab the floor for blood.

Because no blood was found, Pistorius argued that this remained "speculation", to which Mokoena replied, "Yes, you're correct."

Outcry from the community

Mokoena added that if the trio were to be released, there would be an outcry in the community and there was a possibility that it could cause "havoc". Pistorius asked if this suggested that the police wouldn't manage to control the community, to which Mokoena replied, "We must be proactive. I did not say anything about us unable to control [the community]. We must be proactive. Things that might cause havoc must be prevented."

When Mokoena was asked why Nortjé should not be granted bail, he said there was a possibility of a state witness who worked under Nortjié being intimidated.

Nortjé's lawyer, Willem Cilliers, denied the claim, saying that his client "didn't know what was going to happen at Spar". He added that Nortjié was not a flight risk and had been living in Carolina for a long time.

In her closing argument opposing bail, Khumalo said the court should consider that the Spar managers were the ones who had taken Sibanyoni to the storeroom. "Where did the head injury come from? It [happened as a result] of the incident. Who injured Thulani? Viljoen and Terblanche did it," Khumalo argued. She said there was no "alternative cause [for Sibanyoni's injuries], according to the evidence of the investigator... If he wasn't assaulted at Spar, he would not have had injuries."

A ruling is expected on 12 October.

Moshoeshoe said she is glad that the accused will remain in custody until then at least. "My wish is that those who beat my uncle should never be released because this would deeply devastate my soul," she said.

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