‘I want my dignity back’

Singer and dance instructor Samkelo Vellem says he is not bitter that he was wrongfully jailed but he is struggling to get his life back on track.

A traditional dance teacher, who was accused of sexual assault, says he still cannot cope with the trauma and the stigma of the accusation.

After a year in jail, the sexual assault charge againt Samkelo Vellem was dismissed at Wynberg Magistrate’s Court due to lack of evidence in December. Mr Vellem, whose stage name is Zamokuhle, said he wants to reclaim the part of his humanity that was taken.

The father of eight was arrested in 2021 after the community of Lotus Park informal settlement in Gugulethu accused him of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl that he taught.

After his arrest, the group destroyed his home and belongings and his musical equipment was taken (“Community demolishes shacks of alleged rapist”, Vukani January 2021).

He was remanded in jail for a year while investigations were ongoing but on Tuesday December 13, 2022, he was released due to a lack of evidence.

He said he was not surprised that the case was thrown out. Speaking for the first time after his release he said; “I knew God was with me all the time, from the day the accusations were made against me. The parent that started the fire was after money. She made the accusation after we received funding and appeared on Bay TV. That was in fact the problem with the community. I remember one woman came to my shack and said to my wife and I, ‘likhulu iyenqe ngawe’ (’I’m so jealous of you’).”

Shortly after that Mr Vellem heard rumours in the community that he had allegedly raped a girl and sent her naked pictures on social media before the charges were brought against him.

The singer who has three albums under his belt, Ndibuzeleni, Asikakuboni okwakho and Amadoda amabini said his community failed him after he had helped them to shape their children and all he wants is his dignity and property back.

He says he has forgiven his accusers.

“What was strange was that in court I was told about one child but the community added their own, saying I have 10 but that was kicked out in court after tests were done. You know I took those children as my own. Most of them were the same age as my children. But, as I mentioned, I always believed that the truth will set me free,” he said.

Recalling his arrest, he said he was not bitter but prison “is not something nice”.

“A day in prison is like a year. You have a small space just to walk. I am not going to dwell on how damaged my head was while in jail. I am not bitter but I need my property that I worked so hard for, my belongings that took years to collect. I need a guitar to start a new life. I must go up and down to clear my name for something that I didn’t do but I am grateful that the court has proven me innocent,” he concluded.

The former chairperson of the street committee, Thembinkosi Bala, made a plea to Mr Vellem to speak to the community and the new street committee.

“He called me after his release. I appealed to him to come to us and speak to us as a whole. He can also bring the media along but I must mention that as the chairperson at the time, I was really against what happened to him but people are people and they did things behind our backs,” said Mr Bala.

One of Mr Vellem’s homes was broken apart while the other was torched.

Debris from the torched house.