South Africa

Confusion reigns as family of slain DUT student say police did it — but watchdog says otherwise

Confusion reigns as family of slain DUT student say police did it — but watchdog says otherwise

The family of a slain Durban University of Technology student and former SRC member, who was shot dead at a Heritage Day celebration in northern KwaZulu-Natal, insist that he was killed by police.

However, police watchdog the Independent Police Investigative Directorate's preliminary investigation shows otherwise.

Phumlani Sithole, 23, was shot dead on Friday in the vicinity of a Heritage Day celebration at a tavern in Nozambula, near KwaMbonambi, in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

According to his family, the final year-auditing student, who did not drink, was on his way to see a relative who was at the tavern when he was hit by a stray bullet.

“It was around 9pm. He couldn't see that people were running from the police and the police fired at the drunk people, and he got shot on his left side near his heart,” Sithole's younger sister, Paula Sithole, told TimesLIVE on Sunday.

“The police showed no care. They didn't call an ambulance or try to help, they just left. When we got to the police station we were told they had opened a case and didn't give us a case number. They have not come to see us. The only people here are family and people bringing prayers,” she added.

But Ipid spokesperson Ndileka Cola told TimesLIVE on Sunday that its preliminary investigation showed that no shots were fired at the tavern after police responded to the scene to disperse crowds in line with lockdown regulations.

“As alleged, the deceased was later found around the vicinity of the tavern with a gunshot wound. It is still unclear at this stage how he was shot and by who. The information the directorate has gathered so far confirms that the police did not fire any shots and nobody heard a gunshot at the scene,” said Cola.

Cola said that the matter would be investigated by SAPS, but should new evidence supporting the allegation that Sithole was shot by police come to light, Ipid would investigate.

“Ipid does not have any evidence that depicts that the deceased was shot by the police officers, therefore this case will be investigated by SAPS, unless there will be developments at a later stage implicating police officials, that the directorate will take over the investigation of this matter,” she said.

Paula described her brother as a humble and shy person who found his voice when he joined the SRC at DUT in 2019.

“He was not troublesome; he had no harsh words. He was the most respectful child in the family. If you sent him he went without a fight. We were confused when he got to Durban [and became a SRC member] and spoke in front of crowds because he was a shy person who couldn't even look you in the eye. Going to Durban was a good thing for him,” said Paula.

On Saturday, tributes poured in and calls for justice were made for Sithole via Facebook and Twitter. During his time in the SRC he served as deputy secretary-general and later as interim president after the then-president was suspended.

“He spent his whole university life fighting against injustice and towards the objective of free education, especially for black students who are downtrodden. We remember him as a very humble person with a sense of humour and absolute love for students and African people in general,” the DUT EFF Student Command said in a statement.

“We are saddened by the fact that he was killed by those who have been given a responsibility to protect the citizens. It is crystal clear that police are no longer serving the citizens but serving other interests against the citizens,” they added.

Funeral arrangements are unknown at this stage, and KwaZulu-Natal police did not respond to queries.

TimesLIVE