Life for lap­top mur­der

Grocott's Mail - - NEWS - By SUE MA­CLEN­NAN

Four Gra­ham­stown (Makhanda) men were handed life sen­tences for what the Judge de­scribed as “one of the worst mur­ders one can imag­ine” in the high court in Gra­ham­stown this week. Them­bani Onceya and his cousins Akhona and Si­mamkele Onceya, along with Mzwanele Maki, ap­peared be­fore Judge Them­bek­ile Malusi for sen­tenc­ing on Wed­nes­day 18 July.

The Judge said Them­bani had played a lead­er­ship role in di­rect­ing his three co-ac­cused in the bru­tal tor­ture and mur­der of Them­be­lani Qwakanisa, whom they ac­cused of steal­ing Them­bani’s lap­top. The 30-year-old’s se­verely mu­ti­lated body was found float­ing in Zion Dam in Ex­ten­sion 6, wrapped in a car­pet, on 5 Oc­to­ber 2016. The four were on Mon­day found guilty of mur­der act­ing in com­mon pur­pose. They have been in cus­tody since 10 Oc­to­ber 2016.

In hand­ing down judg­ment on Mon­day 16 July, Judge Malusi re­counted the de­tails of the case, in­clud­ing the cruel tor­ture Qwakanisa en­dured be­fore his death. Among Se­nior State Ad­vo­cate Heinz Ober­meyer’s seven wit­nesses was foren­sic pathol­o­gist Dr Stu­art Dwyer, whose de­tailed and shock­ing ev­i­dence fea­tured sig­nif­i­cantly.

Dwyer found ex­ten­sive and var­ied in­juries in­clud­ing “mul­ti­ple con­tu­sions, abra­sions, frac­tures, lac­er­a­tions and burns” on var­i­ous parts of his body. Ob­jects in­clud­ing a pick­axe han­dle, a ham­mer, a stick and a blunt panga had been used.

Qwakanisa’s teeth were ex­tracted with pli­ers. His pri­vate parts were sta­pled and burnt with melted plas­tic. His arms were skinned while he was still alive. He was scalded with (and forced to drink) boil­ing wa­ter, his skull was crushed by blows to his head and his neck was bro­ken.

The events oc­curred dur­ing the week­end of 1 and 2 Oc­to­ber 2016 at the Onceya fam­ily home in Ncede Street. The four men sus­pected Qwakanisa had stolen Them­bani’s lap­top. A search for him en­sued and he was brought to Them­bani’s room. As shock­ing as the tor­ture was ev­i­dence that friends, fam­ily mem­bers and girlfriends of the men had been aware of it to var­ied ex­tents, com­ing and go­ing as the four took turns to as­sault Qwakanisa, tak­ing breaks to smoke man­drax, drink liquor, sleep and spend time with their girlfriends.

Them­bani’s blood-soaked car­pet was used to wrap Qwakanisa’s body and take it to the Ex­ten­sion 6 dam, where it was dumped.

The Judge re­jected Them­bani’s al­i­bis – that he’d been robbed of his lap­top by four men who broke into his room (“so far-fetched it be­longs in the realm of fairy tales”), and that he’d been at the Rhodes cam­pus when Qwakanisa was killed. He also noted that dur­ing the trial, Them­bani had gone to great lengths to min­imise the im­por­tance of the lap­top to him.

How­ever, the Judge said, “The lap­top was the main is­sue and in all prob­a­bil­ity the only rea­son the de­ceased was as­saulted.”

Judge Malusi said while Them­bani had was not phys­i­cally in­volved in the as­sault, he had played a lead­ing role in di­rect­ing the oth­ers.

Those present in court dur­ing sen­tenc­ing in­cluded mem­bers of the Qwakanisa and Onceya fam­i­lies, two of Them­bani’s for­mer fel­low ac­tivists and of­fi­cers from Joza De­tec­tives. The four con­victed men looked strained and tense in the dock.

Judge Malusi said sen­tenc­ing in gen­eral was de­mand­ing, but in this case, it had been dif­fi­cult “more than the or­di­nary”. The judg­ment was de­tailed and com­plex, with the Judge ac­knowl­edg­ing the im­pov­er­ished back­ground of the four men and what the lap­top had rep­re­sented to the cousins.

He took care to elicit how Them­bani, a third-year An­thro­pol­ogy stu­dent at Rhodes Uni­ver­sity, had hoped to be­come a pro­fes­sor.

Them­bani’s uni­ver­sity as­sign­ments, as well as the man­u­script for a book of poetry by Gra­ham­stown po­ets, had been on the lap­top.

“It was not just a lap­top, but an em­bod­i­ment of the dreams and hopes his fam­ily had that [Them­bani] would lift them out of their poverty,” the Judge said. “As for­lorn and mis­guided a hope, it at least gives an in­di­ca­tion as to the ac­tions of the ac­cused.”

Them­bani told the court he’d funded his own stud­ies through poetry per­for­mances and said he was sup­port­ing his grand­mother and two younger sis­ters. He was rep­re­sented by Henry Charles of Le­gal Aid SA.

Akhona Onceya, 30, was rep­re­sented by Viwe Mqeke from Mqeke At­tor­neys; Si­mamkele Onceya, 24, by ad­vo­cate Charles Stam­per and Mzwanele Maki, 26, by Jock Mc­connachie.

The Judge said the mur­der had been ex­cep­tion­ally cal­lous and cruel. “All man­ner of ex­cru­ci­at­ing tor­ment was vis­ited on [Qwakanisa],” said Judge Malusi. “The con­duct of the ac­cused is beyond the com­pre­hen­sion of a nor­mal hu­man be­ing… His tor­ture was es­pe­cially shock­ing to the fam­ily.”

In Septem­ber 2017, Judge John Smith ac­cepted the guilty plea of a fifth ac­cused, Siviwe Gqotholo, and sen­tenced him to 18 years im­pris­on­ment for his part in the mur­der.

The trial of his four coac­cused was sep­a­rated and be­gan ear­lier this year. They pleaded not guilty to mur­der.

All four ap­plied for leave to ap­peal their sen­tences and this was granted. Maki ad­di­tion­ally ap­pealed his con­vic­tion. This was turned down.

Speak­ing to Gro­cott’s Mail af­ter court, Qwakanisa’s aunt Linda Ga­gayi said she was re­lieved at the sen­tence.

“It’s bet­ter than noth­ing. But Tem­be­lani is not com­ing back.”

Ayanda Kota, of the Un­em­ployed Peo­ple’s Move­ment, in which Them­bani had been ac­tive, said, “Our so­ci­ety lacks love and com­pas­sion. These have been re­placed with vi­o­lence, de­spair and greed.

“Our town­ships are con­cen­tra­tion camps,” Kota said. “We are slaugh­ter­ing each other. Our strug­gle must be to be­stow on our so­ci­ety the great­est pos­si­ble gift – a more hu­man hu­man­ity. We need to in­fuse hu­man­ity and self black love in our so­ci­ety.”

Our so­ci­ety lacks love and com­pas­sion. These have been re­placed with vi­o­lence, de­spair and greed.

Photo: Sue Ma­clen­nan

Them­bani Onceya and his cousins Akhona and Si­mamkele Onceya, along with Mzwanele Maki, hide their faces from the pho­tog­ra­pher in the high court in Gra­ham­stown on Wed­nes­day 18 July, where they were all sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment for the mur­der of Them­be­lani Qwakanisa in Oc­to­ber 2016.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.