Mpumalanga police on Monday confirmed that they had withdrawn charges against a group of men who allegedly beat a person to death in an apparent racial attack in Middelburg.
“Yes‚ [the case] has been withdrawn pending investigation‚” said Brigadier Leonard Hlathi.
“I can’t tell you how were they arrested because it’s an operational question [but] three suspects were arrested. [The] murder case and [the assault] case was withdrawn on Thursday‚” he added.
Last week‚ TimesLIVE reported that despite having the attackers’ details‚ it had taken police over a week to arrest the suspects.
The attack‚ which was captured on CCTV cameras at a business complex‚ showed the assault of 27-year-old Xolisile Ndzongana and his friend‚ Lawrence Nelumoni. They were driving through the town centre to get home in the early hours of the morning on Sunday July 8 when they came across cars blocking Cowen Ntuli Street.
The attack is believed to have begun moments after Ndzongana‚ who was the sole breadwinner for his family in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape‚ asked the driver and passengers of one of the cars to move out of the way.
The suspects allegedly threw alcohol over Ndzongana and Nelumoni‚ allegedly calling them the k-word before Ndzongana was dragged from the car. Nelumoni claimed that he too was attacked when he ran to help his friend.
The attackers allegedly kicked and beat Ndzongana‚ who was thrown to the pavement.
TimesLIVE learnt that the attackers were arrested after being asked to hand themselves over to police.
Nelumoni‚ speaking to TimesLIVE‚ said they were driving to Mhluzi township when they found a “couple of Afrikaners” blocking the road.
“I could see that they were drunk. They had beer bottles with them. They poured alcohol on us through our open windows when we asked if we could drive past.”
He said those who initially began the attack were joined by others.
“The situation intensified… I’m not sure how Xolisile got out of the car. It could have been that he was taken out forcefully. When I saw them beating him‚ I tried to intervene but they also beat me. I had to get out. I couldn’t watch my friend get killed right before my eyes.”
Nelumoni said he thought the attack would stop when the security guards from Mid Alarms arrived but‚ “they [the attackers] kept on calling us k*ff*rs.
He claimed that when the police arrived they told him to go to the police station.
“They said they could not help because they were heading to another scene. They had just happened to stumble upon us.”
He said he drove Ndzongana to the police station where an ambulance took him to Middelburg General Hospital. Nelumoni said Ndzongana was transferred to Witbank General Hospital.
“When I saw the doctors on Monday at the hospital I was told this case should not be regarded as an assault case‚ but rather one of attempted murder. They told me Xolisile’s injuries were bad and the chances of him living were slim because of the brain injury. They said if he lived‚ he would never live a normal life.”
He said when he returned to the hospital on Monday night‚ he was told “Xolisile was gone”.
“They did not give me details of how he died‚ but it seems it happened after the operation.”
Nelumoni‚ who says he gave police officers the suspects’ vehicle registration‚ said he had tried to follow up with police about what was happening with the case‚ but was told to “give them a chance to do their work”.
Mid Alarms owner Andre Wessels said: “Our officers have told us that when they arrived at the scene everything was over. They knew nothing about what happened. Our officers radioed the control room‚ who in turn summoned the police.”
Banele Nkosi‚ Nkangala ANC regional executive council spokesman‚ said a mass march was being planned in the town to pressure police into explaining why it had taken so long to arrest any suspects.
Prudence Magutle‚ spokesperson for the Steve Tshwete Local Municipality‚ said they were concerned about allegations of racism in the town.
“It portrays our town as racially divided‚ which we believe we are not. We are in fact warm and welcoming‚” she said.
Magutle said they were putting measures in place and would partner with community stakeholders to address such issues – “to see what our town’s social community problems are”.
“We need to do a lot more to address the issues in our town.”