Traffic cops kill unarmed policeman's son

2008-09-16 00:00

A young man, who was shot and killed while driving a vehicle that had been reportedly stolen on the N3 outside Pietermaritzburg on Thursday afternoon, was diagnosed as mentally ill two days earlier.

His parents now want to know exactly what happened, after traffic officers killed their unarmed son.

Msunduzi Municipality traffic and Road Traffic Directorate (RTI) officers allegedly shot him after he refused to comply when they ordered him to stop.

A few hours before Sihle Mnikathi (20) was shot in the chest near Cedara, his mother had tried unsuccessfully to take him to Midlands Hospital, where he was to be admitted for mental disturbance.

He had started displaying violent tendencies, apparently as a result of his illness, at home and towards his friends. He had started taking medication for the illness a day before.

“We noticed that he had a mental problem after he broke furniture on Monday [last week]. On Wednesday [last week], we took him to a psychiatrist, who found that he was mentally ill,” said the mother of the deceased, Nozipho Mnikathi.

Nozipho Mnikathi, a teacher, said the psychiatrist told her on Wednesday that she could not admit him to the Midlands Hospital because there were no beds available. But on Thursday, the doctor called to tell her to bring Sihle because there was a bed available. “I left work early to take him to hospital. I found him walking in White Road, but he refused to get into the car, and he walked away,” she said.

The psychiatrist confirmed that Sihle, a first-year motor mechanic student at an FET college, had recently developed a mental illness.

Apparently, after Sihle walked away from his mother, he went to a friend, whom he worked on cars with, where he became violent.

“When he arrived here, he was looking bad, as if there was something wrong with his mind.

“He asked for a cigarette and later for water. Then he attempted to assault us with a wheel spanner and when the other three guys locked themselves inside the car, he smashed a window and opened the car. As they were running away, he jumped into the car and drove off,” said Njabulo Dladla.

Dladla said they followed the vehicle on foot, thinking that it was going to stop because it had no petrol. But at the Caltex Grange Service Station, they saw Sihle filling up with petrol — serving himself. A petrol attendant said he had put petrol to the value of R227 into the car. When his friends approached him, he jumped into the vehicle and drove away without paying.

It is alleged that along the way, he drove through red traffic lights. Dladla and the owner of the vehicle, who arrived later, reported the matter to Alexandra Road police.

“Police traced the car to Cedara. We drove there and found that Sihle was being attended to by paramedics. He later died,” said Dladla.

Sihle’s father, SAPS Inspector Mandla Mnikathi, said Sihle was apparently going to his grandfather, who lives in Howick.

“I was returning from Durban when I heard on the radio that a suspect had been shot on the N3.

“I went to Taylor’s Halt police station to do some work, which is where I heard officers talking about the shooting. Later when I arrived home, I found that it was my son who had been shot. For now I get contradicting stories of how the shooting happened, but as soon as the funeral is over, I will get to the bottom of it,” said Mandla Mnikathi, who wept as he spoke to The Witness.

Police spokeswoman Inspector Joey Jeevan said Sihle was driving recklessly, which prompted traffic officers to give chase.

“It is believed that the driver lost control of the vehicle near Cedara, colliding with the barrier.

“The driver got out of the vehicle and attempted to flee when the officer fired at him, hitting him in the chest. He died a short while later.”

A case of murder has been opened.

Msunduzi Municipality spokeswoman Evodia Mahlangu confirmed that council traffic officers took part in the chase.

She said that she could not comment further as the incident is being investigated by the SAPS and the Independent Complaints Commission.

Provincial Transport Department spokeswoman Nonkululeko Mbatha could not confirm the incident.

At the time of going to print, no further information had been received from her.

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