The inquest into the murder of Oupa Ramogibe in the Boksburg Magistrate’s Court, now drawing to a close, has been a harrowing ordeal of double victimisation for family members who have given evidence.
In a bid to clear former police crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli and two alleged accomplices of any involvement in the murder, the defence lawyers seemingly set out to rattle and discredit family members as unreliable witnesses with nothing to offer except their suspicions. They have made much of their faulty recollection of events that took place 13 years ago.
Ramogibe was shot and killed in February 1999 while pointing out the scene of an earlier attempt on his life.
Mdluli allegedly took strong exception to Ramogibe’s relationship with the policeman’s former girlfriend, Tshidi Buthelezi.
Charges were provisionally withdrawn against Mdluli and his former co-accused, Colonel Nkosana “Killer” Ximba, Warrant Officer Samuel Dlomo and Lieutenant Colonel Mtunzi-Omhle Mtunzi, pending the outcome of the inquest.
Three of Ramogibe’s family members have physically buckled under pressure while testifying.
Last week, the testimony of Ramogibe’s mother, Sophia, had to be postponed after her sugar levels shot up during cross-examination. She had just told the court that she had urged Ramogibe to tell the police about the attempt on his life, little realising that it would result in his death.
In December 1998, Ramogibe escaped unhurt when gunmen fired four shots at him while he was driving Ximba’s car.
Ximba’s lawyer, Paul Leisher, asked her why she would “lead her son to a killer” if she was so afraid of Mdluli, as she had claimed in court, and she struggled to respond. After a short recess, the court was told she could not continue testifying for the rest of the day.
Ramogibe’s sister, Justina, burst into tears on the second day of her testimony last week and told the court she was tired after Mdluli’s lawyer, Ike Motloung, accused her of conspiring with the police.
Motloung’s line of questioning intended to establish that her testimony was based on second-hand information from family members, who were determined that Mdluli should be convicted of Ramogibe’s death.
Ramogibe’s other sister, Elizabeth Ramogibe-Mbuyisa, also cried when she was cross-examined. Motloung had quizzed her about why she allowed her mother to travel with Mdluli in his car on various occasions if the top policeman was as dangerous as she had alleged.
Ramogibe-Mbuyisa had told the court that after her brother’s murder Mdluli would often drive up and down the street in front of her parent’s home. “It was very traumatising for us,” she said.
All three told the court that they do not know for sure who killed Ramogibe, but that Mdluli’s constant threats at the time led them to believe he was responsible.
Interviews with two community members who sat in the public gallery suggested that the residents of Vosloorus feared Mdluli. Most people in the gallery would not speak to the Mail & Guardian, but the two individuals relented on condition that their identities would be protected.
The first said that Mdluli was the talk of the township long before the media got wind of the matter.
Living in fear
“He terrorised that family; they lived in fear. People are scared of speaking out against him publicly because he’s so powerful,” he said. However, once patrons had sipped a drink or two, tavern talk in Vosloorus would focus on Mdluli.
Taxi drivers who worked with Ramogibe, himself a driver at one point, said he was frightened that Mdluli might kill him because of his involvement with Buthelezi.
He was said to have “felt bad” that he was cheating on his girlfriend, Lerato Sebalo, but he really loved Buthelezi and wanted to build a life with her, the onlooker said.
When news of his death spread “people assumed that Mdluli did it”, he said.
The second observer said the love triangle involving Ramogibe, Buthelezi and Mdluli had had tongues wagging for as long as he could remember.
“Oupa’s mother was constantly in a state. She tried to convince him to leave Tshidi, but he wouldn’t listen. She feared that he would wind up dead.”
After Ramogibe was killed, the man saw Mdluli’s green Golf driving past the Ramogibes’ home. He said the family was afraid but determined to bring the killers to book. Then a family member was raped and the family was threatened that if they pursued the murder, more tragedy would follow.
“Things died down after that until a media report resuscitated the matter a few years back,” he said.
“Then people started talking about it again when they met in the street and the talk spread.”
By Thursday this week, only one of the four who had originally been accused with Mdluli had testified.
Dlomo, the man who drove Ramogibe to the place where he was killed, insisted that he was not “an agent of Mdluli’s” and was in no way directly involved in the murder.
Had he been an agent of Mdluli, he would have been promoted or received a farm or cattle, he told the court.
Dlomo said he had driven Ramogibe to the scene of the attempted murder, where two men robbed him of his car keys and gun and killed Ramogibe.
He added that he was not a friend of any of the former co-accused and had only had contact with them when he performed his official police duties.
* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email [email protected]
The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.