JOHANNESBURG - The legal team representing the family of a South African man allegedly beaten to death by soldiers enforcing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions reacted with outrage to a leaked army report that said they are not liable for his death.
Forty-year-old Collins Khosa died April 10 in this city's poor township of Alexandra, following an altercation in his yard with security forces. They had accused him of drinking alcohol in public, an offense under emergency regulations put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Witnesses say soldiers and police officers strangled Khosa, slammed his head against a cement wall and a steel gate, and hit him with the butt of a rifle. Afterward, Khosa couldn't walk or talk. He began vomiting. A few hours later, he was dead.
A postmortem described the cause of death as "blunt force head injury."
But VOA has seen a report by the South African National Defense Force, or SANDF, that concludes "the injuries on the body of Mr. Khosa cannot be linked with the cause of death."
The military board of inquiry report further states: "The board concluded that the death of Mr. Khosa was not caused by the SANDF members" nor police officers.
Wikus Steyl, an attorney on the legal team representing Khosa's family, called the report "rubbish."
"We do not accept it. The evidence completely contradicts this report," Steyl told South Africa's News.24.
The news outlet reported that police still are investigating.
Defense minister's response
During a media briefing Thursday, Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the only official ruling on the matter was a judge's decision to suspend the accused soldiers.
"That has been done; it is a correct decision," she said, declining to comment on "whether this was a murder case or not" until "all investigations have been concluded."
Military spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said he was not aware of the report.
Dlamini declined to explain to VOA why a military inquiry had cleared the soldiers of wrongdoing if witnesses had not been interviewed and the investigation was incomplete.
The military board also found that Khosa and his brother-in-law were responsible for the altercation with security forces, as the two had been "provocative" and had "undermined" two female soldiers.
The report says the soldiers merely "pushed" and slapped Khosa when he refused to comply with their orders.
Pikkie Greeff heads the South African National Defense Union, which represents thousands of soldiers. Also a lawyer, Greeff said the army command hasn't followed due process.
"There should be a formal board of inquiry in terms of the Defense Act, which should make findings and recommendations, (which) should include that people be charged in a military court," Greeff said. In the case of a murder charge, "then the military court will not have jurisdiction. Then that will be trialed in a criminal, civilian court."
Khosa's widow, Nomsa, said she doesn't understand all the legal procedures involved in the case. But she no longer trusts the army and police to responsibly enforce COVID-19 regulations.
"Collins is gone; he's not coming back," she said. As for the soldiers allegedly involved in assaulting him, "we would like to see them behind bars. Behind bars for life."