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South Africa: Cop gets 10 years jail sentence for murder of protesting school girl

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A Durban police officer began serving a 10-year prison sentence on Monday for the murder of a young protester who was shot in the back of the head, apparently after turning around and ducking police bullets.

Murder

The bullet from Constable Phumlani Ndlovu’s gun was found in the mouth of Nqobile Nzuzu, a 17-year-old schoolgirl and aspirant gospel singer.

Her father, Dumisani, identified her body as she lay in a pool of blood – an image, he said, that is always on his mind.

The murder took place during a violent protest by members of the shack dwellers organisation Abahlali baseMjondolo in Cato Manor in September 2013 after the City demolished their shacks.

 Ndlovu, 38, a father of two, was a regular churchgoer and a dedicated police officer, Durban Regional Court Magistrate Anand Maharaj recently heard in mitigation of sentence.

But the magistrate said this was not enough to keep him out of jail.

‘She was no threat to you’

“There must be a message to police that they cannot behave badly. While I accept that the protest had turned violent and you found yourself in a precarious situation, you also misled the court [by first claiming to have shot into the ground and then, later, into the air],” said Maharaj.

‘They (the crowd) were badly behaved, to put it mildly. But there was no evidence that Nqobile was throwing stones or causing any trouble. In fact, she was in a state of fright and had turned around to run. She was no threat to you,” the magistrate said.

“We expect the police to remain calm. I understand that this is sometimes easier said than done. But you should have come clean and admitted your mistake.”

Maharaj said there were substantial and compelling circumstances to deviate from the legislated minimum sentence of 15 years imprisonment in that Ndlovu was a first offender, he was on duty, it was the first time he had ever discharged his firearm and he was the most junior officer at the scene.

It emerged that Ndlovu was still working as a police officer, having been cleared of any wrongdoing by an internal disciplinary hearing.

His lawyer, Advocate William Nicholson, said he had raised the same defence at those proceedings – that he had fired two warning shots into the ground and that one must have ricocheted and hit Nqobile in the back.

Cheers from Abahlali baseMjondolo

This evidence was rejected by Maharaj after Ndlovu’s own ballistic experts said this could not have happened, resulting in his conviction for murder.

Ndlovu’s Anglican priest, his former boss and a social worker employed by the SAPS all testified that what had happened had been a “mishap” and “out of character” for Ndlovu, and he should not go to jail.

But after questions from the magistrate, they all conceded that they had not known that the young girl had been shot in the back and that a bullet had ricocheted had been found to be not true.

While Ndlovu was granted leave to appeal both conviction and sentence, the magistrate refused to extend bail.

“I believe that even on his own version he is guilty of culpable homicide and an appeal court will not find a custodial sentence to be inappropriate. He may as well begin serving the sentence now.”

Members of Abahlali baseMjondolo, who packed the court and protested outside the building, cheered when they were told of the sentence.

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