Sunday Times E-Edition

Killed in fight for electricity

Investigation launched after 13-year-old shot in the head, allegedly by a police officer


I want to live in Midrand and in Europe where there is no load-shedding Philasande Yende

Philasande Yende was a sports-mad grade 7 pupil at Robert Carruthers School in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga. He was deputy head boy, a “magnificent” example to his fellow pupils and dreamed of becoming a professional athlete or a pilot and travelling the world.

Last week he was shot in the head, allegedly by a police officer using live ammunition, after being caught up in a protest over electricity in KwaGuqa township.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) has confirmed that the 13-year-old died from a head wound caused by live ammunition. It also confirmed that police are not permitted to use live ammunition at protests, and has launched an investigation.

Philasande, the youngest son of a nurse and a mineworker, was buried on Tuesday. The following day, his distraught mother, Sibongile, collapsed at his memorial service at the school and was admitted to ICU.

This week, Philasande’s school shared a poem with the Sunday Times that he wrote as part of a creative writing exercise. Titled I Wish, it read: “I wish I was the best athlete in the world. I wish I could be a pilot. I wish I could go visit all those countries, I want to go to all the countries in Africa. I want to live in Midrand and in Europe where there is no load-shedding ...”

Ironically, it was a lack of electricity that played a pivotal part in Philasande’s tragic death on May 10.

Angry residents, outraged at ongoing intermittent power supply, had blocked the N4, burning tyres on the streets and demanding that Emalahleni local municipality restore electricity, as they had been in the dark for three days.

The protest had prevented Philasande, who lived in KwaGuqa, from going to school that day — his transport driver had to turn back en route because the roads were blocked.

His aunt, Ntombi Yende, said that after being dropped at home Philasande had changed his clothes and with a few friends decided to go to the protest to see what was happening.

They stood on the side watching. Police started firing at the protesters and everyone began running. Philasande fell on the ground. His friends got scared and they ran back home,” she said.

“I got a call from his mother saying the boys had told her he had been shot and taken to hospital. She asked me to go there, to hurry.

“When I got there the doctors told me they had tried to resuscitate him but there was nothing they could do.”

Mduduzi Komane, 21, who was with the teen when he was shot, told the Sunday Times how he had frantically tried to get help for Philasande.

He had been talking to Philasande shortly before he was shot.

“I did not know him, but he said he knew me. Philasande was standing with another boy next to the traffic circle. Just as he was explaining that he had seen me before, police officers on foot and in a Toyota Quantum opened fire.

“The sound of the firing from the police had changed from what it was that morning. I told Philasande we should go. I left but turned back and realised he had fallen down and people had started gathering around him. I rushed back and

saw he had been shot.

“I took him from that ground and one lady gave me a cloth and I wrapped it around his head.”

Komane said the bullet struck Philasande near his ear and exited his forehead.

He said he struggled to get someone to take the boy to hospital, as people complained that he was bleeding.

“I saw one guy who lives around the area and he agreed to take him to the hospital. In the car I kept on telling him to continue breathing,” he said.

Komane arrived at Witbank General Hospital carrying Philasande in his arms, and handed him to medical staff. He then left to find the pupil’s parents.

It was only later when he returned to the hospital and saw Ntombi Yende break down in tears that he realised Philasande had died.

His aunt told the Sunday Times that the family believed Philasande would still be alive if the municipality had delivered services to residents.

“A day after his death we went to do preparations and get the autopsy results, but we could not pass through the protesters. Sometimes they would request R100 and we would pay it and they would allow the family convoy to go through. Coming back, they did the same.”

A day after Philasande’s death, Emalahleni mayor Conny Nkalitshana was booed as she tried to address the angry community on power supply challenges. The protesters began throwing stones at Nkalitshana and members of her entourage.

The ANC in Emalahleni said this week that Nkalitshana, speaker Mduduzi Nkosi and chief whip Qondile Maseko should be recalled because of the leadership chaos in the municipality.

The municipality said in a statement that the blackout had been caused by a damaged transformer, which had to be transported to the manufacturer for repairs.

Parts of KwaGuqa, which is just 28km from Kusile power station, started experiencing water shortages and life became “a living hell” for the community.

Municipal spokesperson Lesley Nhlapho said illegal connections, increased consumption and higher stages of load-shedding caused the transformer to fail. A new transformer was delivered this week.

The shooting comes as frustrations rise over South Africa’s electricity crisis, with protests growing among communities across the country.

Police confirmed Philasande’s death and said they would await the outcome of the Ipid investigation before taking action.

“They will write a recommendation after investigations saying this is what we have found. We cannot suspend everyone because we would not have any basis to do so at this stage,” spokesperson Col Donald Mdhluli said.

He said two other people had died during the KwaGuqa protest. One was 16-year-old Tshepho Mashaba and the other Sipho Mnguni, age unknown.

“The two other incidents are not being investigated by Ipid,” Mdhluli said. “There are no allegations of police involvement in the deaths. We have opened two murder cases on the other two deaths.

However, spokesperson Robbie Raburabu said Ipid was also investigating a case in which a 25-year-old man was shot dead by what appeared to be pellets.

“Ipid will be investigating both incidents. The police are not allowed to use live ammunition in protests.”

Raburabu said no suspects had been identified and that due to the tense situation in the area members had been unable to make a site visit.

Innocent Yende, Philasande’s older brother, said police had to answer for what happened.

“We want to look into the face of the person who shot Philasande. We want to know his name. We want to know what threat a tiny 13-year-old posed to him.”

He said his brother wanted to be a professional athlete. He loved rugby, soccer, hockey and swimming.

Philasande’s school said in a statement given to the Sunday Times that he had been wellliked by his peers and teachers.

“He had exemplary manners and was willing to assist anyone in need ... He cared deeply for people, had the innate ability to show empathy and set a magnificent example to those around him. He exuded charm and joy. He made every effort to make all his classmates feel included and always looked after those who were not having a good day.

“He could diffuse any situation and often acted as a mediator when conflict arose. He was a reliable, responsible, dependable and friendly pupil. He was confident enough to speak up when he didn’t understand and was never a discipline problem.”

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