One of the five Grahamstown men accused of torturing a man and dumping his battered body in a dam after a laptop went missing, this week gave in shocking detail his account of an assault over several hours that escalated in intensity and brutality until the man’s death. Siviwe Gqotholo will stand trial alone after Judge John Smith accepted his guilty plea to acting in common purpose in causing the death of 29-year-old Thembelani Qwakanisa in October 2016.
The other four accused of murder are Thembani Onceya, cousins Akhona Onceya and Simamkele Theron Onceya and Mzwanele Degree Maki. All four pleaded not guilty in the High Court in Grahamstown on Tuesday. Each of the five men, all in their 20s, is separately represented, according to Legal Aid instructions.
Gqotholo’s statement, read by his counsel, along with the Department of Public Prosecutions’ indictment, is a horrifying account that runs over days and involves waves of torture and assault on Qwakanisa in which several people participated to varying degrees.
According to Gqotholo’s statement, his involvement began on 2 October 2016 when he went to his friend Akhona Onceya’s house. There, he said, Thembani Onceya told him his laptop had been stolen the previous night but that they’d found the person who had stolen it.
Gqotholo’s statement describes several people taking turns to assault Qwakanisa as he denied knowledge of the laptop. These episodes were punctuated with trips to smoke drugs, drink alcohol and visits to friends – with friends and others also wandering in and out.
According to Gqotholo’s statement, the five took turns to stab Qwakanisa, kick him and, after stripping him naked, burn him with hot plastic. They hit him with a hammer on his knees and elbows and hit him with a stick on his head and body.
The most shocking detail of Gqotholo’s statement is that when Qwakanisa said he was thirsty, one of the men left the room, promising him he would return with water for him. He returned with boiling water which Qwakanisa was forced to swallow.
A person named in Gqotholo’s statement came into the room at some stage to tell Qwakanisa that he should tell the truth or he would die.
The girlfriend of one of the men “pressed on the deceased’s stomach to make him tell the truth”. Qwakanisa still insisted he knew nothing, Gqotholo said..
Gqotholo said he brought his girlfriend to the house, where they sat drinking.
When a friend of Qwakanisa came looking for him, the friend was told the man had run away.
At some point, two of the men took a break from the assault to go drinking somewhere else.
When Gqotholo returned the next day to Akhona’s house, he was told Qwakanisa had died and that two of the men had gone to fetch a donkey cart to take Qwakanisa’s body and dump it in the veld, his statement said.
The following day when he returned, Gqotholo said, he was told the body had been taken to the Extension 6 dam in a wheelbarrow and dumped there.
The next day he saw a lot of people gathered at the dam and was told a body had been found there. Not long after, Gqotholo was arrested.
Gqotholo said in his statement that while he had been under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he had known what was happening around him and agreed that he had acted in common purpose in assaulting Qwakanisa. He’d realised Qwakanisa could die from the kind of assault he was being subjected to.
“I accordingly admit to unlawfully and intentionally killing the deceased,” Gqotholo said in his statement.
The DPP indictment adds further details of torture.
Boiling water and hot melting plastic were poured over Qwakanisa and his genitals were stapled.
Throughout the assault, the indictment states, Qwakanisa’s pleas fell on deaf ears.
The post-mortem revealed the cause of death to be blunt force. “Apart from any number of fractures, lacerations and wounds all over, he sustained intracranial haemorrhage.”
The indictment states, “The accused throughout acted in concert with a common purpose to torture and brutally murder the deceased and caused his traumatic death following a sustained and prolonged assault.”
Gqotholo will appear in the High Court on 10 October.
The trial of his four co-accused has been set down for 27 November to 8 December.
Obermeyer handed over evidence that would be used which includes photos taken at the scene, photos taken before, during and after the post-mortem reflecting Qwakanisa’s injuries and a statement by Qwakwanisa’s mother, describing his background and how the incident had permanently affected her.
Senior State Advocate Heinz Obermeyer said the indictment was being framed in terms of common purpose – a legal principle that holds accomplices in an act are all subject to the same weight of the law.
Because of the particular circumstances of the offence, “particularly the callous manner in which Qwakanisa was killed” the Department of Public Prosecutions would, in the event of a conviction, ask for a sentence “substantially in excess” of the discretionary 15 years minimum of the minimum sentences Act, Obermeyer said.