19th Oct 2017 10:51:41 AM

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Kagiso Obed Mphuti
Main Pic

Kagiso Obed Mphuti, aged 13, died on September 21st, 2000, after being intentionally burned alive, by a former school inspector and shop owner called Michael Patrick Seshabela. The man was sentenced to 25 years in prison (8 years suspended) on Tuesday August 14, 2001. He was sentenced to a further 3 months for assault of the other four boys: Kagiso's younger brother Simon Mputhi, then aged 11, John Mthethwa, aged 14, Tabane Sithole, aged 11 and Elphus Mogashoa, aged 14. Seshabela received no sentence for abduction or kidnapping and was not charged with improper use of a firearm.

The families have asked Children of Fire to advise them as to how they can now bring a civil case for compensation. They also thanked the charity for its continual support throughout the many months since the attack. They said that the correspondence with senior officials, insisting on separate facilities so that the surviving children would not have to face their aggressor in open court, was greatly appreciated. Kagiso was one of five boys abducted from two schools, during school hours, in the Ratjiepan area of North West Province, South Africa. The boys were falsely accused of involvement in a burglary and tortured by Seshabela. He claimed that wheelbarrow tracks (the getaway vehicle) could be traced through very sandy terrain from his shop to the home of one of the boys. Children of Fire visited the homes of the families affected and notes that it would have been impossible to follow a trail over the distance and terrain involved. The items allegedly stolen were a bag of maize meal, a bag of oranges, some tinned pilchards and some sweets.

Others who allegedly aided and abetted Seshabela were not charged. Nor were the two school principals charged with any dereliction of duty, despite the fact that, under South African law, teachers or principals have in loco parentis responsibility during school hours, particularly if parents cannot be contacted.

Seshabela's shop in the village Ratjiepan, was next door to Ramoshie Primary School. The shop was run for him by a Mr Maja. Seshabela had one earlier burglary at the shop. The case was handled by Temba Police Station. Then on September 20, 2000 there was allegedly another burglary at around 7.30pm, when all the boys were at their respective homes. The next day Mr Maja phoned Seshabela who then came to the area and instigated his own 'investigation'. Seshabela removed four boys from Ramoshie Primary School on September 21st and drove some ten minutes away to Pholokgolo School and took another boy pupil out from that school. Seshabela took the five children to the small office behind the shop. The surviving boys said that Seshabela pulled their penises, beat them with a metal chain and pointed a firearm at them. He locked them in the office when he went to talk to the boys' grandmothers.

The night before, a wheelbarrow had been taken from the Mphuti family's home. Seshabela claimed that the wheelbarrow trail from the shop, led to the Mthethwa's home. Most people use wheelbarrows to transport goods in the area.

Other people at the shop were unaware that the boys were locked in the nearby room. One resident advised Lotty Mphuti to go to the shop and show sympathy to the shopowner about the burglary.

She said: 'Michael asked the shopkeeper for a box of matches. No one knew his intention. He went towards where the children were. I saw him jumping like he was afraid of something. Then I saw someone jumping from the room. People shouted that someone was burning but I didn't know it was my grandson. People said: 'It's Kagiso'. One woman shouted at Michael - What was he doing to the children? They tried to extinguish the fire, by pouring water. They held me back because I was too emotional.

'I ran away from the shop to look for Kagiso's mother. People were trying to remove clothes from the body. Kagiso was taken to the clinic and then to Jubilee Hospital in Hammanskraal.'

Kagiso's mother came but there was no transport to the hospital as the 3pm bus had already left. She asked for money to visit her son and the shop gave her R20.

Priscilla saw Kagiso. They told her to come again at 7pm. He said he wanted to see his grandmother. 'He said: 'These people have killed me and they have killed me for nothing. I have done nothing wrong'.

The hospital advised the mother to open a case.

When Priscilla returned to Ratjiepan the shopkeeper came and said he wanted to settle the matter between families, by talking. But the nurses in the hospital had insisted that a case be opened. Kagiso had been admitted to hospital on Thursday September 21, 2000. He died at 12 midnight.

Lotty Mphuti lived with her daughter and two grandsons at 783E, an old farm house. It is comfortably furnished but terribly hot, with no ceiling beneath the corrugated iron roof. The yard is full of tall maize plants and thepa, a type of morog or wild spinach. The place echoes now that the old lady is alone.

Subsequent to Kagiso's death, his mother Priscilla Thoka Mphuti left the area along with her remaining son Simon as she found it too distressing to remain at the place where her first-born had been killed. She moved to Kromkuil.

Lotty said: 'Michael came here on the Saturday to apologise, but his apology was not accepted.'

When Kagiso was in hospital his mother said that his testicles were as big as his head, from the beating and the burns. Simon was taken to the same hospital on Friday for treatment of his burns on his arms and neck. The other boys were not burned although they had petrol poured on them.

Kagiso was in grade five at school when he died.

Children of Fire also visited Maria Mthethwa, a Shangaan, who is the grandmother of John - one of the boys who was abducted and assaulted. The house is no. E196.

On the day we visited, she said that the boy had gone to visit a friend in Motlawa. That he had gone without permission - because his behaviour had changed ever since the attack.

'The boy has been traumatised. He was become very naughty and won't take instruction, unlike before.' He went for counselling at the Legae Clinic three times on consecutive weeks .. but the first week no one was there. On the second time he saw a psychologist and the third time he saw a psychologist and a doctor as well. Due to financial constraints (i.e. transport) he couldn't go back to Legae again easily. John's father left the family six years ago and doesn't support them in any way. The father now lives in Swaziland and was told to appear twice in court for maintenance, but didn't do so. The family is very poor.

Maria said: 'On Thursday morning, September 21st, Mr Maja came here with four young boys and a woman. I was sitting at the back of the house and they came in. They said they were searching for something - a wheelbarrow lost at the shop and they said the wheelbarrow was brought here. I said that my wheelbarrow came here the day before.'

She showed it to them. They found two wheelbarrows there including my panga for chopping wood. They asked to measure the size of the wheel. They compared it and said it was what they had been looking for. 'Mr Maja said: 'The thief lives here.'

'I asked if they meant me and they said 'yes.'

'I had to change my clothes and I said you can take me to the police if you make this accusation. They said they would investigate and not take me. 'I asked for evidence. I showed them where I had been chopping wood. Then I went home. They were insisting that I was the woman who had stolen their goods.'

Maria says she has three wheelbarrows altogether but the other one was in the yard.

'Later in the afternoon a man called Michael came here with my grandson John and with Simon. Michael asked if I have oranges in this house. Mimi (my daughter in law) brought the oranges. I showed them to him. He also searched the cabinets and then said he'd take the boys to investigate. Michael came in the same car that Maja had driven.'

'Me and my daughter went to Simon Mputhi's place I was told the other granny had gone to the shop. We were told that the children had been burned and we were too scared to go there.

'We went to phone the police but got no answer. I sent my son Thomas to the police station around 5pm, at Temba. He came home around 8pm with two police officers.

'My grandson was back by then. The police said that they would return the following day for statements but they didn't come - so I went to the police station (on Friday) with John. He gave a statement. They said they'd call us (i.e. come back).

'The following week about eight policemen came here and took statements. One interrogated me and one asked John questions. One was an inspector. They said they would tell us when to appear in court but they didn't come back in the months since then.' 'We didn't know about the first hearing. The second time we went to court, Michael was called and granted R2000 bail. He said nothing. 'On December 17 there was another trial (court date) but we only heard it on the radio - no policeman informed us. Michael again said nothing. 'On 26th January I borrowed money to go to court, but still the case did not move on.

'I'm told that the police searched the place on the Friday when my daughter was here, but I wasn't here. I don't believe that they had a search warrant.'

John Mthethwa (14) survived the attack.

He said: 'Mr Seshabela beat Kagiso with a chain. He took some matches and lit a cloth and put it next to the door and then there was a fire. The door was closed. He shouted at us to come out. Kagiso and Simon were my friends but I didn't really know the other boys.'

'The man Michael dragged Kagiso into that room so he couldn't come out. Then Kagiso got out, shouting that he was burning and to help put out the fire.

'They gave Kagiso a blanket. His clothes were burned. He was naked. So they covered him with a blanket.'

'Michael then instructed us to go to the Sithole's home. We were further questioned by Michael. Some of the parents were also there - the mother of Tabane.

'He asked my grandmother here to show him the oranges and he searched here. We went to another shop, a tuck shop. He searched the tuck shop. We remained on the stoep so we didn't know what he said to the owner. He took us to another shop called Stumo, and also searched there.'

All the time as John spoke, reliving the memories of that day, his slim hands caressed the wooden edge of the sofa. He spoke quietly, sadly. A little boy whose voice has not yet broken, seeming younger than his 14 years.

'Michael said his driver should take us to his shop to question us further. Thomas the driver went to fetch another boy, Modikoe Kganyego.' He did not know why this boy was involved.

'On the way to the shop we met my grandmother, who asked for the registration of the bakkie and the names of the men. Ultimately they told her.

'When we arrived at Michael's shop my grandmother and my uncle Thomas were there. Thomas went to call the police. My grandmother took me home.'

'When we were being attacked, Michael threw Kagiso and Simon up in the air. He kicked them all over the body including their penises and he pulled their penises.

'Maja was outside the room, insisting that we should be burned.

'We were thrown in the back of the bakkie and told to lie down until we were told to get up. There was petrol and crates there. It was very hot.

'When he was hitting everyone, Kagiso and Simon were saying they hadn't done anything.

'They weren't cheeky but they couldn't give the answer he wanted.

'Tabane was the last boy to be fetched from school. He wasn't assaulted. Michael said that he was going to burn myself and Elphus.

'When Michael came to the school, he went to the principal Simon Peete who instructed the class teacher Mr Mosenya to send us with Michael.'

John Tinyiko (meaning 'gift') Mthethwa is in standard four (grade six). He couldn't concentrate at school after the incident but he passed the year. His grandmother said: 'Maybe they just passed him.'

When John gave a statement, they didn't read it back to him so he wasn't sure what he signed. They read it to his mother.

The family only heard about subsequent court dates if it could go to court and hear it there or if it hears the information on Motsweding radio. They said that the police don't keep in touch.

John: 'I hate Michael. He's cruel. He killed a boy. He tortured us and made us go with him. I hate him because he beat up Simon. I keep having headaches. They won't go away. He poured petrol on my head and in my ear. I can't stand the smell of petrol anymore.'

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The mindless murder of Kagiso and the terrible ordeal suffered by the other four boys, is part of a pattern where a society seems to be de-humanised. While many injustices can be blamed on apartheid and its legacy, the cruelty of a man towards children who had in all likelihood not even done anything wrong, is beyond belief. But it is true and there is no compensation that can bring Kagiso back to life or wipe the terror from the minds of the survivors.

For this reason Children of Fire is glad to be contributing to the formation of new laws to make SA schools safer places; glad to be able to play a role in at least one murderer being brought to justice and glad to help teach children their rights through initiatives like the squatter camp library. It is hard for children raised in traditional African cultures to stand up and say to any adult: 'I won't go with you.' But if that courage and outspokeness is contrary to tradition, then let's leave tradition behind and let children live into adulthood unafraid.





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