“We received a complaint that learners were fighting, so when we arrived at the scene we were expecting to see a fight. We were ready to intervene and calm the situation. But immediately when we arrived at the scene we noticed just an African male, suddenly approaching us. Hey! It became a shock,” said Sergeant Tlaki Matemane.
Derrick Bopape, 26, was hurling bricks at the windows of Mmametlhake High School in Mpumalanga when police were called to intervene. When a police van arrived, apparently he began throwing bricks at it, breaking the window on the passenger side.
In a video circulating on social media, Bopape, who was carrying a brick, approaches and opens the police’s passenger door while the vehicle is reversing. It is at this stage that Matemane is flung out of the spinning car, injuring her legs and ankle.
‘No option but to use force’
“At this stage, the police had no option but to use force by shooting at the raging man, in protecting everyone in the vicinity, himself included,” said provincial spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi.
Mpumalanga Department of Education spokesperson Jasper Zwane told the media that the department was concerned about the incident.
He said Bopape had allegedly chased a pupil on to the premises and, once inside the school, requested to see the principal. When he was told that he couldn’t see the principal as she was not around, Bopape allegedly “became violent and started throwing bricks, destroying windows of the school”.
Describing how the police shot at Bopape, Zwane said, “The intruder attacked them [the police] until he was shot in the leg.”
The police repeatedly said that they shot Bopape in the leg because “he, without a doubt, had a clear intention to inflict deadly injuries to the female officer who was in the car”, said Hlathi.
Meanwhile, the family is reeling from shock because “he never behaved like this before”, according to Bopape’s oldest sister, Johanna, 44.
Shot and kicked
Bopape’s family is unhappy about how the police shot him and what happened afterwards, when a police officer kicked him repeatedly when he was lying on the ground.
Johanna said the education department and the police are misleading the public in saying that they shot Bopape only in the leg. “The doctor who checked him at the Mmametlhake Hospital said it shows that he was shot with [three] or more bullets,” she said.
Hlathi said the Independent Police Investigative Directorate will conduct an investigation as to whether the police followed the law before resorting to live ammunition.
When Bopape was admitted to Mmametlhake Hospital, his condition was critical. That led him to be transferred to Witbank Hospital, about 155km away. His family said they struggled to get updates on Bopape’s condition.
Grace Bopape, 37, told New Frame that when they went to Mmametlhake Hospital to check on their brother, they found “Derrick’s clothes already washed and placed in plastic at a corner of the reception entrance … and we were surprised, since when does a hospital wash a patient’s clothes?”
Chained to hospital bed
When the family requested Bopape’s file and an X-ray of his wounds from Mmametlhake Hospital, Grace said they were told that the files had gone with their brother to Witbank Hospital as he had to be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).
When the family arrived at Witbank Hospital on Friday 8 March, they discovered that Bopape was not in the ICU as expected, said Grace. No one in the family has seen a medical report detailing his injuries. And when New Frame arrived at Witbank Hospital on the afternoon of Monday 11 March, a police officer in civilian clothing had been stationed outside Derrick Bopape’s room.
Johanna was in tears when she saw her brother chained to the bed. “There is nothing, really, he could possibly do in such a critical condition.”
Hlathi said that when Bopape is discharged from the hospital, he will go to jail for attacking police officers and causing damage to state property.
The incident received more attention than anything else at the school’s Saturday budget meeting, said Mmametlhake High School governing body chair Welcome Moseta. Most of the parents condemned Bopape’s behaviour.
Moseta said some of the matric learners were writing their first term physical science test when the incident occurred, which had to be cancelled as events had left students and educators traumatised.
He said the incident revealed fundamental failures by the Mpumalanga education department. “This is a security issue, because if there was a security guard at that time, Derrick would have not been able to get inside the school,” said Moseta.
“As we speak now, most of the schools in Mpumalanga do not have security guards, leaving people to freely access the schools,” he said. “Our learners are not safe as anyone has access of getting in and out. In fact, this is an eye-opener. The department must do something. This is totally out and is unbecoming.”
Grateful to be alive
Matemane, a police officer since 2006, is on leave following the incident.
She is the spokesperson for Mmametlhake police station and safety coordinator for at least 72 schools in the Dr JS Moroka Local Municipality. She is equipped to deal with school violence and said that was why she was deployed to go to the school; there was a high probability she would understand what was wrong after being notified that pupils were fighting.
“For now, I still don’t believe that this really happened and that I am still breathing after falling out of that van,” said Matemane. “The only thing I was saying when that guy threw the bricks was, ‘Oh God, help! Oh God, help! What’s happening here?”
While explaining, her last-born child interrupted her. “Mommy, I need water, please.” She looked at him and her eldest child, who was on the front veranda. “I nearly died and these kids almost lost me,” she said.
“In our station, every day when we report for duty, we always hold a prayer during our parade. In that moment, when I fell out of the van, I felt God. He offered me some energy because after falling I was not feeling tired, I was willing to get up and assist,” said Matemane, adding that she was concerned about the safety of the learners and the educators.
Her cooler bag, which she ended up using as protection when Bopape attacked, is badly damaged, as are her diary and programme book.
“One of my mandates is to protect the citizens of this country and maintain public order. I was hoping that I would hear his [Bopape’s] frustrations and offer some help or support with regards to whatever was troubling him,” she said.
Update: Derrick Bopape died on 20 March at Witbank hospital, according to his family.