Police officers shot and killed Zamekile Shangase, 32, as they raided homes and forcefully reclaimed looted goods in Asiyindawo in Madlala shack settlement near Lamontville, residents say.
Before the fatal shooting on 29 July, activists had expressed grave concern over the manner of the recovery of looted goods.
The police and soldiers arrived in the area without search warrants, proceeded to break into people’s shacks and searched for stolen goods. The settlement is across a stream from Umlazi’s Mega City Mall, which was looted, vandalised and partly burnt during the riots of July.
Shangase was standing not far from her shack when a team of police officers and soldiers arrived. When these officers began breaking locks on people’s doors, residents became agitated.
Having formed themselves into a group, residents are said to have screamed at the security forces team and ordered them off, with some pelting stones. The security forces responded by retreating and firing live ammunition in the process.
One eyewitness said Shangase was standing with neighbours when the shooting began and was struck by two bullets. She tried to flee before falling behind a shack and died.
Residents say she had two gun wounds, one on the chest and another on the shoulder. Her body lay there in a pool of blood for hours before she was taken away by the police.
Bereaved husband, orphaned children
Shangase – who hails from Umzimkhulu, a rural town about 165km south of Durban – was unemployed at the time of her death. She had been doing piece jobs in Durban’s clothing factories before the Covid-19 hard lockdown was introduced in March 2020.
Her common-law husband, 47-year-old Mongezi Ngwadla, said he was in their bed, sleeping, when a hysterical neighbour knocked at his door to tell him about the shooting.
“I was working the night shift so when the chaos started I was sleeping. When I was told I rushed to the scene and I saw the mother of my children lying on the floor, full of blood.
“She was still breathing… but only just. A moment later she was dead. It was a sight I never wish even for my worst enemy.”
Shangase leaves behind two children, an 11-year-old and a six-year-old.
“We don’t even have money to give her a decent funeral. These police officers who shot her must pay for her funeral. They must also pay to raise the children who are left behind. As for me, I lost a soul mate, someone with whom I had been through all the ups and downs of life,” Ngwadla said.
He added that since the fatal shooting he has been having sleepless nights, agonising about how he is going to be able to raise the children on his own without their mother.
Neighbours say Shangase was a kind woman who went out of her way to help others.
Ntombenhle Mzilelwa, 28, considered Shangase a big sister.
“When I arrived here in KwaMadlala from my rural home in Bizana, she was one of the few people who opened their arms to me. Even this shack I’m staying in, I got it because of her. She bought the stand and helped me build my shack. I often ran to her to help me sort out my problems. I don’t know what I would be without her,” Mzilelwa said.
Police disregard for impoverished Black people
Shangase’s death has angered the community. Siyabulela Sokhulu, 53, a leader of one section of Madlala, said he led a delegation to meet the Lamontville police station leaders, to air their complaints and to demand that the police pay for Shangase’s funeral because her family cannot afford to bury her.
He said the fracas that led to the fatal shooting of Shangase began when the police and the soldiers began forcefully opening and breaking into the locked shacks of people who were not in them.
“The community began making noise because what they were doing was illegal. They did not produce any search warrant, they just broke into people’s homes. If they wanted to do this peacefully they could have asked for community leaders to arrange their search and seizure.
“When they get to suburbs and areas of other races they go with search warrants and conduct themselves civilly. When they deal with us Black people who live in shacks they are rude, they are rough, they just break in,” Sokhulu said.
Thandi Mzizi, 44, a member of the local committee of Abahlali baseMjondolo, said there was no need for the police to use such excessive force when coming to conduct the raid.
“When they come to us to collect rice, tin fish and other small items, they just budge in and treat us with disdain. The worst part is that they take these things only to destroy. There was no need for a poor woman to be killed for all of that,” she said.
Xoliswa Faku, who sells vetkoek, polony, fried chips and sausages from her small shack shop, said she witnessed events as they unfolded on 29 July. She said when the police started shooting randomly she and a group of women hid behind and inside their shacks.
“My neighbour’s shack has a huge bullet hole. The bullet went through his bed and the t-shirt that was there has [a] bullet hole. Luckily he was not there, he was at work. If he was and had been sitting or sleeping on the bed he would have got shot,” she said, adding that there are several other shacks that had bullet holes after the shooting.
Other community members demanded that police minister Bheki Cele and eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda come to the area to hear their cases.
Thapelo Mohapi, of Abahlali baseMjondolo, said there is no evidence in the police’s initial statement that they fired live ammunition after some people within the crowd threw stones at them.
Mohapi said the organisation had cautioned law enforcement agencies about their conduct when conducting raids on impoverished and especially Black people.
“It appears that people resisted and tried to defend themselves against aggression from the police and the SANDF [South African Defence Force],” said Mohapi.
Impoverished, not criminals
He added that Abahlali baseMjondolo does not condone looting. “But it is clear that our people have been subjected to poverty, they have been subjected to hunger for too long. When the opportunity arose to take food to eat and feed their families, they took it.
“People who took food did that out of desperation. [They] are different from people who broke into malls and warehouses [and] burnt and destroyed buildings. The Zuma faction was responsible for that. Poor people took food. Many of them were arrested and will face charges of sabotage and so forth, like they are criminals, when they only took food.
“The real criminals are the people who burnt down buildings and malls, the ones who rented people to follow them and loot. The ones who rendered our people unemployed by burning down malls, warehouses and other centres. They should be charged and jailed,” Mohapi said.
Police spokesperson Nqobile Gwala said the matter is being handled by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) and they will await a report before making any further comment.
Ipid spokesperson Ndileka Cola told journalists that a team has been set up to investigate events leading to the fatal shooting incident.