Murder most foul

2013-06-23 14:00

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A famous artist has been arrested for beating a woman to death. Biénne Huisman and Charl Blignaut find out who she was and visit the scene of the crime.

Eva Kumalo cried when Nokuphila Moudy Kumalo was laid to rest at the West End Cemetery in Kimberley two weeks ago. Her 23-year-old daughter had been taken from her too soon.

The service, which began at the family home in Retswelele, was an intimate one with few people in attendance. It was led by a priest from the family’s Roman Catholic church.

Eva did not know at the time that her daughter’s death would hit national headlines when the man arrested for her cold-blooded murder was identified in court papers as one of South Africa’s most celebrated artists, Zwelethu Mthethwa.

Eva’s sister, Ruth Niys, lives in Kimberley. This week she told City Press Eva and Nokuphila Kumalo moved to Cape Town about 16 years ago, where Eva found a job as a domestic worker. According to police spokesperson Tembinkosi Kinana, they lived in Gugulethu.

“The family is very shocked and sad. We never expected the child to come to such a brutal end,” said an emotional Niys.

Documents before the Cape Town Magistrates’ Court state “the deceased was a prostitute”, but when asked about this, Nijs declined to comment.

Ntokozo Yingwana, an advocacy officer for the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce, which is based in Observatory, said the victim was believed to be working in Woodstock, the suburb where she was murdered on the street.

According to police, a man believed to be Mthethwa arrived in Ravenscraig Road at 2.40am on Saturday, April 13. They say both CCTV footage and an eyewitness captured the man getting out of the car and approaching Kumalo. The man began to hit her repeatedly and, when she fell to the ground, he kicked her. She is reported to have died on the scene.

Mthethwa was on a work trip in America when police contacted him in May.

According to his affidavit, made at the time of his arrest, he immediately contacted his lawyer – William Booth – and returned home, handing himself over to the investigating officer.

He was arrested for murder on May 5 and released on R100?000 bail on May 6. He reportedly says in his statement that he is innocent of any charges against him.

The artist, celebrated for his township photographs and brightly coloured paintings depicting rural life, did not answer his phone this week. His gallerist, Mark Read of the Everard Read Gallery, told City Press he had spoken to the artist, who assured him the matter would be sorted out in the courts.

Ravenscraig Road is littered with rubbish and lined with factory shops selling handbags, meat and linen. It links the industrial heart of Woodstock with Zonnebloem, overlooking Table Bay.

The road grows quiet after factory workers hurry home at dusk and is usually deserted at night, with pools of light from a few streetlights.

There is a CCTV camera mounted outside the Tollgate Industrial Centre in upper Ravenscraig Road.

This week, a security officer at the tall, orange building – which boasts 24-hour surveillance – declined to comment on the incident.

Down the road at Kwaai Lappies – a fabric specialist at the junction of Ravenscraig and Victoria Road – a shopkeeper said it was a mystery why security staff did not help the woman. “Perhaps they were scared,” said the man, who did not want to be named. “It gets very dark there at night.”

Across the road, Hossain Shepu, a manager at a fish-and-chip shop open until 10pm, said crime was rife in the area.

“There are sex workers here in Victoria Road, but not really in Ravenscraig Road, as it gets very dark and quiet up there.”

By contrast, according to court papers, the artist lives in an up-market complex on the slopes of Devil’s Peak.

Woodstock locals seemed hesitant to discuss the murder. So too was Cape Town’s art community, despite being vocal on social networks.

Artists contacted by City Press said they were stunned by reports, but didn’t want to comment. More than one artist said they had been warned to distance themselves from the murder and not jeopardise their gallery connections.

City Press battled to find anyone who was a close friend of the 52-year-old Mthethwa. Those who have worked with him say he has a reputation for being particular and even difficult. It appears he is an intensely private man.

His next court appearance is on August 26.

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