The long wait for justice

2012-05-19 15:20

Rose, the widow of Andries Tatane, talks about the daily agony of reliving the death of her husband

She walks out of court every time a video is played of her husband being killed.

Rose Tatane (27) says “it’s too hard to see him dying on the videos over and over again”.

Andries Tatane’s death at the hands of police officers during a protest march in the Free State town of Ficksburg was broadcast on television news, sparking outrage.

Seven policemen are now on trial for his murder. Every morning before proceedings begin at 9am, his wife takes her place in the front row of the Ficksburg Regional Court.

On Monday morning, looking younger than her years in a denim skirt and blue jacket with a small, pink blanket draped over her knees, Rose Tatane watches SABC cameraman Filane Chomane walk to the witness stand.

He tells the court how he saw Tatane scuffling with police officers after the protesters arrived at the Setsoto Municipality’s offices.

He heard two gunshots after Tatane was attacked and saw him lying on the ground.

Chomane testifies that he did not see who fired the shots because his camera was focused on the policemen who were beating Tatane.

As proceedings adjourn for the day, Rose has doubts about securing a successful conviction.

She learned of a break-in the previous evening at the home of Karabo Chaka, one of the state’s witnesses.

His video of the killing is also evidence in the trial and thieves stole his laptop on which the video was saved.

Back in her usual place behind the accused on Tuesday morning, Rose is relieved after prosecutor Celeste Ferris explains that she needn’t worry – the state has a copy of Chaka’s video.

Constable Kabelo Pule of the public order policing unit then takes the stand.

He witnessed the attack on Tatane and identifies four of the accused in three different videos shown to him.

Rose Tatane leaves the court each time.

He testifies that the police officers were not correct in the way they handled Andries Tatane. He says they could have used pepper spray to overpower him and arrest him instead.
But then Pule says he had three weeks’ training in crowd management in 2008, and after court resumes on Wednesday, defence Advocate Johann Nel drops a bombshell.

He reveals that Pule has been suspended from the police after an internal disciplinary hearing.

It later emerges that Pule was in fact fired after being found guilty of participating in an armed robbery.

His criminal case is pending.

On Thursday, Rose does not leave court while yet another video of her husband’s killing plays in slow motion.

She instead turns her face towards her mother, Maria Mohlaping, who sits on her right each day.

Her mother supports her in other ways too: Rose and her two sons, aged five and nine, now live with her.

“I am working at Jet Stores when they need extra personnel, but I do not make nearly enough to cover expenses,” Rose says.

Her house has been broken into three times in the past year.

“I think people are under the impression that I got a lot of money when my husband died,” she said.

The thieves stole many items of sentimental value.

“If your husband passes away, then you are supposed to have a cleansing ceremony at the end of the mourning period. During this ceremony, which symbolises a new beginning and a new start, I got a Seshoeshoe dress to wear on that day and a blanket, called the lesolanka, as presents,” she says.

“The thieves stole them. How do I replace those?”

Rose says the house the Free State provincial government promised her is still not finished.

The builders left in December last year and did not return.

Senne Bogatsu, spokesperson for the Free State department of human settlements, said the construction company they hired ran into financial difficulty, but they would ensure the house was finished.

Rose says moving back to her mother’s home three weeks before the first anniversary of her husband’s death was hard.

“I cried. That was my home with my husband and kids. Together we filled it with furniture, love and laughter. Sometimes I still catch myself waiting to hear my husband’s familiar footsteps on the gravel outside.”

On Monday and Tuesday while the case was being heard, Premier Ace Magashule took journalists on a tour through the eastern Free State, showing off successes of his controversial Operation Hlasela service delivery project.

The tour stopped at nearby Clarens, Harrismith and Qwa-Qwa, but skipped the area around Ficksburg.

One of the main reasons for the protest march during which Andries Tatane was killed was the lack of drinking water.

“Now we have water, so at least my husband’s death was not in vain,” says Rose, looking away to hide the tears in her eyes.

The case has been postponed to August 6.

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