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Death at a funeral

  • Police distance themselves from fatal shooting of a Botha-Bothe man at funeral

By Thuso Mosabala

Police have distanced themselves from the brutal killing of a Botha-Bothe man who was allegedly caught in crossfire during a chaotic funeral at Tsime village, in the area of Matjeka, early this month.

Taelo Tšoeute was fatally shot as the Botha-Bothe police exchanged fire with two suspects, namely Potjo Tloutle and Relebohile Morobe, they had gone to arrest in an undercover operation that horribly went wrong at the Tsime graveyard on July 7.

But the grieving Tšoeute family has since alleged a certain police officer they saw coming out of a nearby tavern had directly gone to their son before shooting him three times on daylight.

This has however been refuted by the police spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, on grounds Tšoeute was hit by a straying bullet that could have been fired from whichever side.

Speaking to MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism this week Supt Mopeli said though investigations were underway to establish whether a bullet that hit Taelo was fired by one of the police officers or the suspects, it was clear the deceased had stood in the firing line.

Both the suspects were still at large, Supt Mopeli added.

“The report that I have is that police had gone there to arrest two suspects, as they approached to make arrests, the deceased threw stones at the police preventing them to make the arrests. One of the suspects then drew his gun and fired at the police, and this resulted in the crossfire as police returned shots. Subsequently, a shot hit the deceased,” he said.

But Mopeli’s statement comes in sharp contrast with what the Tšoeute family told the Centre.

Giving an account of the incident, Taelo’s widow ’Mabakoena Ramohlokoane-Tšoeute said they realised at the funeral that there were two police officers who disguised as ordinary mourners “but it was evident to everyone later that they were policemen.”

Also attending the funeral were Tloutle and Morobe, “whom we knew the police had always been looking for although I don’t know why they were being hunted,” ’Mabakoena said, adding together with her husband were residing in Qoaqoa, South Africa.

Together the three men were relatives, she said.

Narrating events of the fateful July 7, ’Mabakoena said: “During the funeral procession on that Saturday, two men who did not look familiar arrived at the funeral and by that time, I thought they were people just attending the funeral. But all hell broke loose at the graveyard after someone made a lost and found announcement of a hat which Potjo (Tloutle) replied it was his. At this time, one of the suspicious police officers approached Potjo, stepped on his toes, and while Potjo cautioned him against that, he told Potjo that he is a police officer and that he was arresting him.”

Tloutle, ’Mabakoena said, had shown signs of resisting the arrest when the officer slapped him on the face “and suddenly I heard gunshots as Potjo slipped away from the police officer and took on his heels.”

’Mabakoena noted mourners ran helter-skelter following the gunshots, “and at the time, another police officer who carried a rifle came from the direction of the tavern located few metres away from the graveyard and went straight for my husband and shot him three times while I watched helplessly.”

The widow described how she witnessed as her husband landed down bleeding before the police officers covered him with his blanket and threw him at the back of their pick-up van and drove off.

“I don’t know what these officers wanted from my husband and why they shot him because we do not live here; we live in Qoaqoa. We only came here for the funeral and we planned to make our way back home on Sunday,” she said.

The Tsime area chief, Habofanoe Hlasoa, gave an account that corroborated with ’Mabakoena’s narration.

Chief Hlasoa added: “Having heard of the incident, I went to the police to seek an explanation and they told me that they had gone there to arrest two wanted suspects. I was given an impression that the shooting was a mistake. This is really sad and unfortunate, in my five years I have been the chief of this village, this is the first time something of this sort happens, I am really disappointed.”

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