Sunday, August 8, 2010
Journalist's harrowing account
Wa Afrika tells how he was carted about in fear of his life
Aug 8, 2010 12:00 AM | By MZILIKAZI WA AFRIKA
Moments after I set off for Rosebank police station to hand myself over, I was bundled into an unmarked car and then handcuffed.
FREE: Mzilikazi wa Africa walking out of the police cells after being released at Nelspruit police station on Friday Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
'Don't eat or drink anything, we know they are going to try and poison you. These people want you dead'
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I said a silent prayer: "Please don't let them take me to Mpumalanga."
That was where former Nelspruit speaker Jimmy Mohlala and provincial government spokesman Sammy Mpatlanyane had been murdered - and my name was on the same hit list as theirs.
One of the four policemen said I'd be taken to Pretoria. It would be 18 hours later that General Leroy Mapiyane would read my rights to me for the first time - in his office in Nelspruit.
After we set off for Pretoria, we turned around after a phone call came telling the officers to search my house. They said they did not need directions as they knew where I lived.
I did not see a search warrant and was not told why they needed to search my home.
Once inside, the officers headed straight for my bedroom, where one of them asked for my briefcase, "the one that is full of documents". I have never had a briefcase.
They ransacked my bedroom, going through my wardrobes, dustbin and drawers, overturning my mattress and searching under the bed.
A similar search continued in the next room, where they removed my eight-year-old son's laptop and 3G card before proceeding to my study. There, they removed files and notebooks, some of which I had used while working at African Eye News Agency in Nelspruit over 10 years ago.
Having one's notebooks seized is any journalist's biggest fear: they contain details of confidential sources.
One of the officers spotted a box for my Macbook and asked where it was. It was in my car, still parked at the office.
The search was over, but some of them went back to the Avusa building in Rosebank to search my car.
I was then taken to a police station somewhere in Pretoria, where no processing was done.
My fingerprints had not been taken and nobody had asked me any questions when I was bundled into another unmarked car along with four policemen from Mpumalanga, among them investigating officer Colonel Christopher Mabasa.
I still did not know why I was in custody and was getting nervous. I asked repeatedly and was just told I would get that information in court.
When we arrived in Middelburg, they detoured into the city centre and stopped along an unknown road. Five minutes later, a Black BMW X3 pulled up alongside us. A casually dressed man got out and policemen loaded my possessions into his car.
We hit the road again and arrived at Waterval Boven police station at about 5:30pm. Before taking me inside, one of the officers warned me that I was being left in this tiny town for my own safety.
"Don't eat or drink anything, we know they are going to try and poison you. These people want you dead, " he sai d.
About three-and-a-half hours later they fetched me and took me to Nelspruit.
I heard the 9 o'clock news on the radio. Hawks spokesman Musa Zondi was explaining how I had "run away" and refused to co-operate with police.
We arrived at the office of the Organised Crime Unit in Nelspruit at about 10pm and I was led into an office to meet Mapiyane, who greeted me: "Aah, my man, Mzilikazi wa Afrika."
Then he told a junior officer to take me away because he was expecting company.
At 1:40am, I was taken back to Mapiyane's office, where the general introduced himself as the lead investigator in the case and read me my rights. He said I would be charged with fraud and defeating the ends of justice.
He asked me to make a statement, "to make things easier" for me. I told him I could not do that without my lawyer present. Mapiyane was irritated and a colleague of his told me I was giving them problems by writing stories about Mpumalanga.
Five-and-a-half hours after I first got there, I was taken to Nelspruit p olice s tation. It was 3:20am .
At 8am my legal team finally had access to me. Mabaso informed them that I would be appearing in the Kabokweni Regional Court, about 35km outside Nelspruit. I was taken there, then driven back to Nelspruit where, after 5pm on Thursday, police interviewed me in the presence of my legal team.
One of the questions the police asked was: "Have you either directly or indirectly been discrediting senior office bearers of the ANC in Mpumalanga?"
Comments by Sonny
What has happened to Afrika Khumalo?
Is he no longer 'Top Dog" in Mpumalanga?
....."Don't eat or drink anything, these people want you dead!".....