Mofokeng and Mokoena return to Bethlehem

30 April 2011 – Fusi Mofokeng and Tshokolo Mokoena, two men jailed for 19 years for a crime they clearly did not commit, were officially welcomed home by the residents of Bethlehem’s Bohlokong township on Wednesday. Jeremy Gordin writes for the Saturday Star.

The two were released on parole on 2 April – exactly 19 years to the day after they were arrested – after a 22-month campaign by the Wits Justice Project, the media, ANC members in Bethlehem, and the Petitions’ Committee of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), chaired by ANC MP Archibold Jomo Nyambi.

A special Freedom Day rally, arranged by Bethlehem mayor Tjhetane Mofokeng (no relation) and the Bethlehem ANC, was held for Mofokeng and Mokoena, who were aged 24 and 29 respectively when they were  arrested 19 years ago.

Keynote speeches were made on Wednesday by Nyambi, mayor Mofokeng, the ANC’s Harold Swann and Richard Mokoena (no relation), and Thabo Manyoni, Free State MEC for police, roads and transport and deputy chairman of the Free State ANC.

A number of churches from the area were also present at the rally. “The churches above all were supportive of us and helped organise the petition that went to the NCOP in 2010 – and we wanted to say thank-you to them,” said Fusi Mofokeng.

In April 1992 the two men were nabbed in a security forces’ swoop on the township after an ANC self-defence unit (SDU) had opened fire on two policemen, killing one and severely injuring the other.

Mofokeng’s sister was married to one of the SDU members, Johannes Nxala, and the police arrested both Mofokeng and his friend, Mokoena, and charged them with murder, along with the surviving members of the SDU.

At the 1992 trial, a state witness and childhood friend of Mofokeng’s, Thabo Motaung, testified that Mofokeng and Mokoena had been involved in a plot with the SDU to rob a local farmer – and both men were sentenced in terms of the “doctrine of common purpose” to life imprisonment, along with the remaining SDU members.

Motaung, now dead, later visited the men in prison and allegedly told them he had “turned impimpi” because he had been offered a reward by the security police and had been tortured as well.

In 1998, the SDU members were exonerated by the Truth Commission. However, Mofokeng and Mokoena refused to apologise for a crime with which they had not been involved and they were told to withdraw their amnesty application and to return to jail.

The ANC’s national legal affairs desk promised to take up the matter, and the men also wrote to President Thabo Mbeki and then Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but nothing was ever done for them.

“It is a horrible story of 19 wasted years, “said Nyambi on Wednesday, “but it is over now – and we need to move on.

“The NCOP petitions committee has recommended that four things happen now as quickly as possible. First, that the men be counseled. Second, that their parole conditions, which are actually very strict, be considerably softened – parole was merely a means of getting them out of jail. Third, that we move to have them exonerated. And, fourth, that the state find some way of compensating them.”

Both Mokoena and Mofokeng had the crowd spellbound as they told the story of their arrest and incarceration.

“It was very, very important for me to set the record straight,” said Mofokeng. “You have to realise that most of the people in Bohlokong don’t even know the true version of what happened. They don’t realise that we were sent to jail for something we didn’t even do.”

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About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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