Justice further delayed for family of man who died in police custody

More than two years after an inquest was set down to be heard, the matter could still not proceed because of yet another failure by the state. Nearly two decades after Solomon (Solly) Nengwane died in police custody, his family will have to wait at least another five months before they finally start getting answers. The inquest into his death was initially enrolled on 15 April 2021, and after numerous delays due to start on 27 September, in the Brits Magistrates Court. But now only expected to start in February next year – nearly three years after it should have started.

AfriForum’s Private Prosecution Unit represents Nengwane’s family. The 42-year-old was one of five people arrested in 2006 and questioned by the police after millions of American dollars – and drugs – had been stolen from a Benoni police station. The six persons of interest identified in the inquest were part of the task team that investigated the case. 

Among the persons of interest is former North West Deputy Commissioner Maj. Gen. Ntebo Jan Mabula. It is alleged that Mabula and the others tortured Nengwane to death. The official version is that the police realised there was something wrong with Nengwane and took him to the Dr George Mukhari Hospital. He had already died when they arrived there.

At the previous proceedings in February of this year, which was postponed due to the unavailability of a magistrate to preside over the inquest, a commitment was made that a magistrate would be appointed timeously to hear it. But a magistrate was only appointed on Friday last week. This uncertainty meant that the investigating officer had not subpoenaed the persons of interest to be present at the court. Their legal representative argued that it would prejudice his clients to proceed without them, although it is permissible in terms of the Inquest Act to do so.

The unit’s spokesperson, Barry Bateman says the state continues to fail the Nengwane family. “The family was failed by the state when their loved one died in police custody. The family was then failed by the state when the investigation and finalisation of the matter was delayed for more than a decade. Now the family has been failed by the Department of Justice because of the delayed appointment of a magistrate. 

“Each of these failures by the state has had an adverse impact on the well-being of a grieving family who are simply seeking justice. We can no longer tolerate such delays. The unit expects every party to these proceedings to do their jobs so that the matter can be finalised,” says Bateman.  

The inquest has been set down to run from 20 to 23 February, and 16 to 19 April next year. 

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