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Seven appear for mob justice

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The suspects are accused of assaulting and then setting the man aalight

IN COURT: The suspects

SEVEN suspects are facing a charge of murder in the Northern Cape High Court after they were accused of assaulting and then setting a man alight in Kimberley.

The deceased, who is a Lesotho national, was not identified in court yesterday and was only referred to by his nickname, Nero.

Seven other Lesotho nationals – Bokang Sehapi, Khunoan Mafeo, Thebogo Ngoanahali, Retshidtswe Ngoanahali, Mamosebetsi Rhakojane, John Thene and Taeli Rakhiba – are accused of assaulting and setting him alight in an apparent mob justice incident in Madiba Square on December 31, 2016.

The incident is believed to have happened after the group accused Nero of assaulting Rhakojane’s daughter.

According to the State, represented by advocate Adele van Heerden and supported by advocate Joylene Mabaso, the accused followed Nero to one of the shacks located behind the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature.

The accused apparently threw stones at a shanty while Nero was inside. One of the windows was broken and the accused then broke down the door. They allegedly assaulted Nero with several blunt and sharp objects.

It is alleged that Rhakojane prompted the group to kill Nero.

After Nero collapsed the accused walked away. However, one of the accused apparently noticed that Nero was still alive and some of the them returned to the scene of the alleged assault.

One of the accused then allegedly poured petrol over Nero while he was lying on the ground and another accused allegedly set him alight.

Nero was certified dead on the scene.

All seven accused pleaded not guilty to the murder charges against them. The accused, excluding Rhakojane, are also facing a further charge of contravention of the Immigration Act. Four of the six pleaded guilty to this charge.

A witness who owns the shanty where the incident occurred, Shirley van Wyk, told the court yesterday that chaos broke out after Nero, who was being chased by a mob, ran into her home.

Van Wyk testified that the group of attackers threw stones, glass bottles and other items at her shanty in an attempt to force Nero to come out. Van Wyk identified Rhakojane as the instigator of the incident, stating that she gave orders to the angry mob.

“There was a group of about 15 people who were chasing the deceased. They surrounded the shanty and Rhakojane was amongst them. As they were throwing items at the shanty, the shanty door broke. Rhakojane had a two-litre bottle of paraffin and poured it out close the door. She then took four matches and lit them, before throwing them inside my shanty. I managed to extinguish the matches and they luckily did not cause a fire,” said Van Wyk.

“I pleaded with Rhakojane, saying that there was a seven-year-old disabled child as well as a nine-year-old child inside the house. Rhakojane said she did not care as her daughter was also fighting for her life in hospital. After pleading with them, they allowed my younger sister to go inside and get the children out.”

Van Wyk said that Nero was assaulted by one of the accused as he tried to leave the shanty.

“The deceased was partially out of the shanty when accused six (Thene) hit him. The deceased fell to the ground and the whole group attacked him. They were armed with various weapons, including pangas, kieries and garden forks, which they used during the attack.

“Rhakojane was amongst them, telling the mob to ‘kill the dog’. She, at some stage, kicked the deceased’s leg and told the mob that ‘this dog is not yet dead’.”

Van Wyk stated that a group of about five men went to fetch some petrol, which was poured over Nero.

“About four or five men left and returned with petrol. One of the men poured petrol over the deceased, but it looked like he was shaking while he was doing it. Another man then grabbed the petrol from him and poured it over the deceased, who was lying on the ground. One of them lit matches and set the deceased alight.”

Van Wyk added yesterday that none of the perpetrators who set Nero alight were in court.

“None of those who set the deceased alight are in court today. Rhakojane was present at the time but I did not see her physically taking part in the attack, except when she gave orders to the group to kill the deceased.” She stated that the accused ordered community members not to assist Nero before leaving the scene.

“The group who burnt the deceased threatened anyone who tried to extinguish the blaze. My husband took a 20-litre container of water and extinguished the fire after the perpetrators left. The police and ambulance were also alerted.”

Van Wyk could not identify accused one (Sehapi) and accused two (Mafeo) during court proceedings. She indicated that she knew accused three (Thebogo Ngoanahali), four (Retshidtswe Ngoanahali) and seven (Rakhiba) as they stayed in the same area.

The trial will continue on Thursday and all seven accused remain in custody.