Freed but not liberated

2012-07-07 10:47

A lost youth, 19 years of imprisonment and empty promises

Ballyduff is not much more than a dirt road outside the town of Bethlehem in the Free State, with farmhouses and cattle sheds scattered across the undulating hills. Fusi Mofokeng (45) points at a white sign that reads: Trailer Repair Centre.

“The police car drove up here and the ANC men were over there, and they started shooting.”

This pastoral setting, with the sun rising above a lake nestled between the hills, was the scene of a crime that ruined the lives of Mofokeng and Tshokolo Mokoena (50).

Their release, after 19 years of imprisonment, was brought about by a sustained campaign by the local community, churches, ANC members and the Wits Justice Project, and was celebrated on Freedom Day last year.

Local dignitaries promised to help them build a house and find work.

Mokoena works as a welder for the municipality and Mofokeng was given a job as a mechanic at the municipal workshop.

But they are still struggling to rebuild their lives, while facing stringent parole conditions and unfulfilled promises.

Last week, as a result of President Jacob Zuma’s Freedom Day announcement of remission of sentence, the department of correctional services informed them that their parole would end in 2013 instead of 2050.

“We are not happy about this,” says Mofokeng. “We are innocent and should not be on parole in the first place.

We want our criminal records expunged. And, as we have lost 19 years of our lives, we want to be compensated. It’s painful to speak to people of our age in Bethlehem who own property and have families.”

On April 2 1992, a shoot-out took place just outside Bethlehem between an ANC Self-Defence Unit (SDU) and the Bethlehem police.

A 22-year-old police officer was killed and another was critically injured. Afterwards, the SDU men seriously injured a farmer who tried to bring them to the police.

Mofokeng’s brother-in-law, Johannes Nxala, was part of the SDU operation to ferry guns to KwaZulu-Natal, where the ANC was embroiled in an armed fight with the IFP. Their vehicle broke down in Ballyduff.

The security forces swooped into Bethlehem the day after the armed fight and arrested a few SDU members. When they found out Nxala and Mofokeng were related, Mofokeng’s house was raided and he was arrested.

Because Mokoena had visited his friend earlier that day, he was also arrested. The two friends were sentenced to life for murder and armed robbery under the doctrine of common purpose.

The rest of the SDU members confessed their crime and were awarded amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1998.

But Mofokeng and Mokoena continued to protest their innocence and told the TRC they could not confess to a crime they did not commit.

In an ironic twist of fate, the SDU members regained their freedom, while Mofokeng and Mokoena returned to prison.

Mofokeng’s manager, Johan Delport, is convinced a bright future awaits his employee.

Delport says: “Fusi has great potential. He works hard, has high standards, is always on time and he is an intelligent guy.”

Despite a private phone call made by Minister of Correctional Services Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula last month, during which she promised to relax their parole conditions, both men still have to be home every day by 6pm.

Victoria Mofokeng, Fusi’s sister, lives in a modest house in Bohlokong, a township close to Bethlehem.

Mokoena, who lives with his sister and nephew down the road, lost both parents while he was in jail. He was not permitted to attend their funerals.

The mayor of Bethlehem promised them their own dwellings during Freedom Day celebrations last year. But both are still waiting.

Mofokeng and Mokoena frequently visit the sites in Bohlokong that are designated for construction, but nothing seems to have materialised.
Mokoena says: “The mayor promised us we could build a house on one of the sites and Thabo Manyoni, the deputy chair of the ANC in the Free State, said the ANC would help with the building material for the house. But nothing has happened.”

The mayor of Bethlehem, Thjetani Mofokeng (no relation), says: “The local community has been involved with Fusi and Tshokolo for years.

We have provided both men with work in the municipality and we are aware that they have to live with their families. I have a firm commitment to provide them with a site where they can build a house.”

But Manyoni is not convinced, saying that the two men lost their youth and the opportunity to be normal South Africans because of a miscarriage of justice.

All Mofokeng and Mokoena can do for the moment is imagine their own home on one of the designated building sites. They are eyeing an open field surrounded by houses in the centre of Bohlokong.

Mofokeng concludes: “There are so many people in our churches, families, civil society and friends who have supported us while we were jailed and after we were released.

“They want the best for us in our lives. But we will rest only when our names are cleared and our suffering is compensated. That is when
we are truly free.”

» Hopkins is a journalist with the Wits Justice Project, which investigates alleged miscarriages of justice

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