Sbusiso Amos had only just started enjoying his newfound freedom when he was shot and killed on the veranda of his house in Vosloorus, east of Johannesburg, on 29 March.
Amos, 40, was one of the first people killed by law enforcement during the government’s lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19. He was shot in full view of his aunt, cousin Ntombikanyise and her four children.
She said it was understood that Amos and some friends had been drinking at a nearby tavern when law enforcement officers arrived and started shooting rubber bullets at the men. They dispersed, with each returning to his home.
At this point, Amos was sitting inside his yard drinking Coke when law enforcement officials started harassing him again.
“As I got to the veranda area, there was commotion at the gate. There were people outside and there were people inside. At the time I didn’t know they were officers; I just saw there was people outside and there was people inside and they were fighting. It was only when I saw the guns and the uniforms that I saw, oh, these are officers,” Ntombikanyise said.
As the confrontation escalated, Amos moved closer to the veranda where Ntombikanyise and his aunt were standing.
“It happened so quickly. You don’t even get a chance to understand what is happening or why it is happening that way. But my aunt was here as well, and she pushed my cousin back. So the confrontation was verbal. I don’t know what they were arguing about but there was a lot of commotion,” she said.
“Instead of trying to figure out what was happening, I just pulled him in. And I slammed shut the door, and when you slam it shut it locks. And the officer was standing that side,” she said, standing on the veranda behind the closed security gate, pointing to the other side.
“[The officer] was trying to open the gate and when he realised it was not opening, he cocked his gun and he just shot,” Ntombikanyise said. “He just shot and I was standing right here. I think he realised what he had done and he got into the van and they sped off.”
The speed at which it happened stunned her and Amos. Ntombikanyise’s first concern was for her four children – aged between five and 11 – who had been hiding just out of sight in the house.
“The kids were screaming, there was blood, they were crying and they were bleeding. As I ran past him [Amos], he looked down at himself and he couldn’t even fathom what had happened,” she said.
“He was also in a state of shock, of ‘I don’t know what is happening, I don’t know what is happening’. The next time I came out on the veranda, which was not even five minutes later, he was on the floor bleeding out.”
Ntombikanyise decided to rush her four children to hospital, because at this point she was not sure how severe their injuries were, while her aunt stayed with Amos and tried to call an ambulance. He was declared dead on the veranda about 30 minutes later, when paramedics eventually arrived.
“We do group trauma counselling as a family since this happened,” Ntombikanyise said. “The kids are very traumatised, especially the smaller ones. They freeze up when they see a police van. They ask me, ‘Mommy, why are there vans in the street?’
“I can’t explain to a six-year-old that that one incident was isolated, the cops don’t go around and shoot people,” Ntombikanyise said. “So it’s become very difficult to show them that not all officers are bad. We go to group counselling because they have a lot of work to do.”
Law enforcement’s first victim
Amos was one of the first of at least a dozen people killed by the police, military and private security guards during the enforcement of the Covid-19 lockdown. At the time of his murder, an Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) spokesperson said an Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department (EMPD) official had been arrested along with an officer from a private security company.
It is understood that the private security officer, Siphiwe Ndlovu, 45, used SSG cartridges in a shotgun to fire multiple times at Amos at close range and through a shut retractable security gate. The South African Police Service officially discontinued the use of SSG cartridges, which contain pellets, in 2006 after they were found to be dangerous to use in crowd-control situations.
Ndlovu was charged with murder, four counts of attempted murder, the unlawful possession of a shotgun and the unlawful possession of ammunition. Ipid spokesperson Ndileka Cola failed to respond to questions, only confirming Ndlovu’s arrest.
Amos had been released on parole from prison just two months before he was killed, and Ntombikanyise said that was one of the most heartbreaking and difficult things to deal with after his death.
“A friend promised to help get him work at his construction company. He was just so excited about this new life he was starting,” she said. “You know when somebody is just waiting for that big ‘aha’ moment to happen, or that ‘this is why I am here’ moment.
“He had this energy of ‘I want to do something, I want to be somebody, I want to make something happen in my life, I just want to be something’, and he wanted to see the change in his life. And I think that’s what hurts the most – that it was cut so short,” she said.
Ntombikanyise said the family would only be able to find closure when they started to heal and see justice done. She said Amos’ murder wasn’t an accident but an illustration of how policing in South Africa and the rest of the world is “a failing system”.
“It’s got everything to do with a failing system. They are taking officers that are half-trained and they are putting them on the street. If they were taking somebody who is fully trained, they would know at that range that weapon would do that to somebody. They would not recklessly shoot. They would not willy-nilly shoot at anything. So the system is literally failing the people,” she said.
“Closure won’t happen until we see what the justice department is going to do about this whole situation, and we see justice and we see somebody’s life being acknowledged. I feel it can’t be that his life just didn’t matter. I think we will wait for the justice department to show that his life did matter.”