Cop killed driving ‘unroadworthy’ car

2014-07-12 00:00

THE “dilapidated, unroadworthy” police car that a young policewoman was driving when she was killed yesterday morning had reportedly been “boarded” because it was a wreck.

Police officers were apparently instructed to take it out of the police garage where it was awaiting repairs on Thursday because of a crisis with their vehicles, which insiders say had left them with just one operational car.

Snethemba Noxolo Sithole (25), a member of the K9 Search and Rescue Unit, died as she was nearing the end of a busy night shift, when the bakkie she was driving crashed on the R33 near Sbu Ndebele’s farm. The car, which reportedly had just one headlight and was described as “very, very old”, plunged into a ditch near the Wartburg off-ramp.

Sources yesterday raised questions about whether the policewoman should have been driving the car at all.

One source told Weekend Witness that the car was believed to not have been roadworthy. “The inside of the tyres are very smooth, showing that the wheel alignment was out. The tread looked like a tube, it was so worn. This could have resulted in her losing control of the car.”

Another said it was missing a headlight and needed “extensive work”.

Police declined to comment on this, saying only that the cause of the accident was being investigated.

“For this type of police work, you need a very roadworthy car, which has been fully examined and is ready for any eventuality,” said one source.

It was a sombre moment for police on scene as they cleared the wreckage in which Sithole had been entrapped and firemen used the jaws of life to remove her body.

She was described by some of the members who knew her as a young woman who was passionate about her police job and worked tirelessly to serve her community.

One officer said this was not only a huge loss to her family but was also huge blow to the unit because she still had so much to offer the South African Police Services.

Sithole had been travelling between Greytown and Pietermaritzburg while being trained in the K9 unit, said sources.

Sithole’s fiancé, Siya Dlamini, said she was no longer happy doing the commute.

“She wanted to be placed back at the Greytown station without having to travel,” said Dlamini.

He added that he had paid lobola for her.

Department of Transport spokesperson Zinhle Mngomezulu said the cause of the accident was being investigated.

Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni sent her condolences to Sithole’s family and colleagues. “It is always not easy to accept the loss of one of our own, however we have to accept [it],” she said.

Weekend Witness has been investigating the shortage of cars in the Pietermaritzburg K9 unit for the past two weeks.

The unit’s high-performance cars, like the VW Golfs and Ford Focus STs, are stuck in the police garage awaiting repairs, and police are left with bakkies that are not equipped with dog kennels.

Staff in the unit are now reportedly taking long leave because of the shortage of cars.

“We are using the cars on a daily basis. They are our office. If you don’t have a car, you won’t be able to work,” said one member.

“We just come and sit in the office as we don’t have cars. There is nothing we can do if anything happens in our area. We won’t be able to respond,”

Police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane said in a reply to queries that the SAPS garage in Pietermaritzburg is attending to the matter.

“It was established that some of the vehicles that are in the garage have engine and gear box problems. The garage is attending to the matter and the drivers are urged to take good care of these cars and they should check the car before use,” said Zwane.

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