Cop appears for protest killings in Pretoria

2015-05-21 19:30

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Pretoria - A Soshanguve policeman, who allegedly opened fire on a crowd of protesters with illegal shotgun ammunition, pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder on Thursday.

Hyde Mophosho, 44, pleaded not guilty in the High Court in Pretoria to murdering Michael Tshele, Osiha Rahube and Enock Seemela and attempting to murder Shadrack Mahlangu, Thabo Phiri and Itumeleng Thejane near the Brits crossroads on January 13 2014.

He also denied guilt the unlawful possession of SSG shotgun ammunition, which had been discontinued by the police about a decade ago.

The state withdrew charges against a second accused, Dexter Lesolang.

The court was packed to capacity and some community members who wanted to attend the trial had to be turned away.

Mophosho was one of the policemen on duty when residents of Mothutlung near Brits embarked on protest action against the shortage of water in their area.

Police officers followed the protesters in a Nyala as they were marching towards the Madibeng Municipality in Brits, but drove past them when they approached the Mothutlung main road.

According to the State, the police officers had formed a single line in front of the oncoming crowd and without any provocation fired tear gas and shots towards the crowd, causing the protesters to run for their lives.

Soon thereafter it was discovered that six people had been shot. Tshele was shot in the head and Rahube in the chest. Both died at the scene.

Seemela, who was also shot in the head, later died in hospital.

The State alleged that one of the protesters had, before the shooting, approached the police at the intersection and begged them not to shoot at the crowd.

Mophosho said in his plea explanation that he only had rubber bullets in his possession and had no intention of murdering anyone, nor was he negligent relating to the death of any of the deceased.

He said eight police officers were called to the area on January 12. He was issued with an R5 rifle and the rest with shotguns.

Later that night they received information that the area was tense and that community members were throwing stones, burning tyres and barricaded roads.

The safety of the Councillor Solly Davis was also a priority.

'The crowd started throwing stones'

The area was tense during the night and community members started gathering early on the morning of January 13.

"The crowd started to barricade the main roads with burning tyres. The situation was reported to Captain Sefike and back up was requested. No back up arrived.

"The crowd started marching towards Damonsville and we followed them with the Nyala police vehicle, whereafter they passed Damonsville and continued to Brits.

"...The crowd started throwing stones at us as we tried stopping them to continue to Brits," the policeman testified.

"Lieutenant Mashiane gave the instruction to use tear gas... This was unsuccessful. Lieutenant Mashiane then instructed to throw stunt [sic] grenades of which I threw one and Lieutenant Mashinae a second one.

"This was unsuccessful. Lieutenant Mashiane then gave the instruction to use rubber bullets.

"... I requested permission from him to use the shotgun of the driver of the Nyala.

"I joined the front line... and start[ed] shooting.... While I was shooting I heard a loud bang... I suspected that I could have discharge[d] a shot that was not a rubber bullet as I did not know where the loud bang came from.

"I retreated a couple of steps, inspected the shotgun but only found rubber cartridges.

"...I requested the shotgun from a colleague... as only six police officials were available to disperse a crowd of approximately 1 400 - 1 700.

"I had no SSG or AAA ammunition in my possession as I was issued with a R5 rifle. I did not foresee that I will make use of a shotgun when I reported on duty.

"When I received the shotgun, due to the seriousness of the situation, the massive crowd and the throwing of stones, I glanced at the belt containing the cartridges, noticed that the belts were fully loaded but did not notice anything out of the ordinary," he said.

The trial will continue on Friday.

Read more on:    police  |  pretoria  |  crime  |  protests

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