Cell death: relatives demand answers

Family members of the man who died in the Khayelitsha police station cells from left are, Nosiphiwo Toli-Sana, Nontombi Mbonyongwana and Phumla Mkungelwa

The Site B family of a man, who died in police custody, say the police failed to officially notify them of his death and they want answers.

Police arrested Sakhile Mbonyongwana after he allegedly assaulted and killed his fiancée at his PJS home on Monday June 22, but then he failed to appear in court, and his family learnt later that he had died in the cell at the Khayelitsha police station in Site B.

The family allege the fiancée’s family and members of the community assaulted Mr Mbonyongwana before taking him to the Site B police station.

He was arrested and was supposed to appear at the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday June 23 but he never did.

His cousin, Phumla Mkungelwa, said when they arrived in Court 1, where he was supposed to appear, Mr Mbonyongwana’s name was never called. She said the family had not been able to get any answers from police as to why he did not appear. But they later heard from a neighbour of the deceased that he had hanged himself inside the cell – information they claim was not given to them.

“What we suspect is that police did not take him to the hospital; instead they let him die in the cell. We might be wrong, but we have doubts as to how a man can hang himself with a shoelace. But answers can only come from the police. All we want is justice for him,” she said.

The family said they found it strange that detectives had opted to tell someone else about Mr Mbonyongwana’s death when they had all the family’s contact details.

Another family member, Nontombi Mbonyongwana, said the concern was over police behaviour. She said the family suspected there was not even a docket for him.

“When we went to enquire, all we were told by a certain police (officer) was that he was going to appear in court on Monday. We took that and went to court on the day, but he was never there, and his name was never on the roll. When the news of his death came, we started to have questions. I hope they come with a real story.”

In a statement to the media, provincial police commissioner Lieutenant-General Yolisa Matakata said the Independent Police Investigative Directorate was investigating the incident where a 39-year-old suspect, who was held at the Khayelitsha police station for allegedly beating his girlfriend to death, was found dead in the holding cells on the afternoon of Tuesday June 23.

She confirmed that the suspect had been arrested on Monday evening after the death of his 36-year-old girlfriend.

“The SAPS in the Western Cape reiterates its commitment to rooting out all forms of violence, including gender-based violence and ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to book,” she said.

The family welcomed the investigation, but said it would not be enough if their weren’t answered, and they said whoever was found to have broken the law, should be held to account .