Relela: After the flames

2014-02-02 14:00

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Large black smoke patches on the wall of a badly damaged house littered with ashes and the remains of ruined furniture.

Next door, two tents erected for a funeral that hasn’t happened yet and a family whose loss sparked a riot that’s torn villages in Limpopo’s Bolobedu South apart.

The mourners are the family of 15-year-old Kgomotso Ragolane, whose mutilated half-naked body was discovered nine days ago in Relela.

The family staring at the blackened remains of their home are their neighbours: their home was burned down by a furious mob who had discovered that Kgomotso was last seen alive leaving her home with her neighbours’ daughter.

Yesterday?Kgomotso’s family was still trying to understand what had happened to their daughter – and how it had led to a week of running protests, the fatal shooting of three protesters allegedly and an attack on a businessman’s home ­after a three-year-old was found dead in his car.

Kgomotso was due to be buried this week – hence the marquees – but other residents approached the family and asked them to put the ­funeral on hold.

The residents want police to find Kgomotso’s missing hand, which was severed from her body.

Kgomotso’s uncle Patrick Mkhwanazi said the family did not hesitate to accept the request.

He said they hope police will have found Kgomotso’s hand by the time she is buried. The funeral is now set for Saturday.

“We find ourselves now feeling double pain from my niece’s brutal death and now three others who were killed by the police and those who lost their houses and cars,” Mkhwanazi said.

“It is sad because while we’re hurting we do not want innocent people to die or get victimised and would rather have police given space and some time to investigate and bring those responsible to book.

“Violence is no solution in this matter. It is sad that because of this battle between the police and the community, investigation is now slowed down because the police cannot freely ­access the village and perhaps people they want to question because now they have become ­enemies of the protesters.”

Tshepo Baloyi (15) was shot dead the day after Kgomotso’s body was found, during a clash between protesters who wanted men taken in by the police for questioning handed over to the community, instead.

Tshepo was buried in a ­low-profile funeral service yesterday. Police maintained a heavy presence.

Clarence Molele (16) and Stanley Molewa (28) were shot as 20 police officers tried to defend themselves from what they have described as a mob of about 1?500 people who ­descended on the area’s satellite ­police station, threatening to shut it down.

Some officers were injured in the confrontation and police cars were damaged.

The men who had been taken in for questioning were released without charge.

Then the violence moved to ­nearby Kubjana village, where three-year-old Makgopa Mulaudzi was found dead on Thursday in a ­local businessman’s car.

Victor Seseletsa believes the toddler and his own child were locked in and got trapped inside the car while playing and a post mortem has revealed that the child died from suffocation.

But?residents ­believe Seseletsa is the killer and have torched his three cars, shop and his home.

Foreign shop owners were the next to be ­targeted: all the protests were marked by looting and police eventually had to escort foreigners out of the villages for their own safety.

Many of the protesters were very young men who have spent the week engaged in running battles with police, pelting officers with stones. Schools were closed and roads were inaccessible ­because of barricades made from ­rubble and burning tyres.

Even if you did manage to pass the barricades, there was another hurdle: groups of boys set up ­makeshift toll gates and demanded R5 or more from motorists to let them pass.

Some villagers who watched from a distance said they would rather join a service delivery protest than get involved in what they were ­seeing.

“Some of the houses in the area are inaccessible because of bad roads in our villages,” one resident told City Press.

Attempts by police boss General Riah Phiyega to calm the situation fell on deaf ears.

When she visited the area this week, enraged residents demanded that she order police to find Kgomotso’s hand and tell them who gave “orders” for the fatal shootings.

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