Who was the burning man?

2008-05-23 00:00

He was burned alive; his final agonies splashed across television screens and the front pages of newspapers around the world.

But six days later, the charred corpse of the man who was burned to death in Reiger Park’s Ramaphosa settlement last Sunday lies nameless in the Germiston mortuary.

If no one comes forward to claim the body, he will be cremated: the nameless victim of nameless killers.

Police say 42 people have been killed since May 11. But there are suggestions the figure could rise.

So far police have failed to identify a single one of the dead. Were they South African, Mozambican, Zimbabwean or Angolan? No one can say.

Director Govindsamy Mariemuthoo is the only police official in Gauteng allowed to comment on what he calls “the unrest situation”.

His stock answer when asked when police will begin releasing names of those killed is: “We are busy with investigations …

“The mortuary must tell who is being identified, but they won’t talk now. We are not releasing any names because it is the subject of investigation.”

Mariemuthoo was also unable to say how many people have been arrested for the murders. “It is difficult to say now.”

When it was suggested to him that he simply did not know, he said: “It is not that I don’t know, I must go now and check on each case and see whether this person is connected to this murder. It is a difficult task. I’m giving you a global figure. Wait for us to give our information out instead of complicating the issues now.”

Zanele Mngadi, spokeswoman for the Gauteng Health Department, which oversees government mortuaries, referred all questions about the identities of the victims to the police.

Mariemuthoo said police spokesmen at various stations across Gauteng could not comment on deaths and arrests in their areas because “they are going to tell you things and then you will have conflicting statements”.

Pressed further he said: “ We cannot release those statistics. You must also understand there is a moratorium on statistics.”

Numerous other inquiries have come to nothing and in areas where murders have occurred, residents invariably deny knowing the victim.

So far Beeld has only been able to confirm the name of one victim: Innocent Mlawuzi.

He was killed in Jules Street in Malvern on Sunday when angry mobs ran amok, torching cars, attacking foreigners and throwing stones. He had been in South Africa for 15 years after fleeing spiralling violence and the collapsing economy in Zimbabwe.

His nephew, Bheki Ndlovu (26), barely managed to escape the mob. He ducked down a side street and only found out later his uncle was dead.

Too terrified to catch a taxi back home, he ran nearly eight kilometres to the house he shares with other immigrants in Rosettenville. Ndlovu, who has been in South Africa since 2002, said his attackers were screaming at him to “get out and go back to where you come from”.

“They wanted to know why we do piece jobs for only R40 when they ask more. We do it because we’re starving, because we don’t have jobs, because we will do work for that price so that we can have food.”

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