Grandfather seeks answers to grandson’s death

Senior Journalist Ruth Hopkins’ latest piece tells the devastating story of one grandfather’s search for answers to his grandson’s suspicious death in Johannesburg’s Leeuwkop Prison.

On 16 August last year, Mabuti Shabalala, an 83-year old Thembisa man who everyone simply refers to as ‘Mkhulu’ (grandfather in isiZulu), called his granddaughter Cynthia. “I said to her, I have some bad news, Cynthia. I just got a phone call and they told me Mmeli is dead. She fell right here, I had to pick her up.”

Mmeli Shabalala, Mkhulu’s grandson and Cynthia’s brother, was incarcerated at Leeuwkop prison, in Johannesburg, following a conviction for robbery. Mkhulu, who raised Mmeli from the day he was born, went to visit the prison the same day. “The sister there told me that he had a bucket and was throwing water and then he slipped and fell. But then they showed me the place. I don’t believe that he would have died there. The cell is too small to slip and fall. He would have fallen on a bed.”

Not only did the slip and fall theory seem unlikely, there were also differing versions of events. The government mortuary told the grandfather that Mmeli was polishing the floor with a rag under his feet when he slipped and fell, there was no mention of a bucket and throwing water. When Mkhulu asked a fellow inmate what had happened, he said Mmeli was alone and coughed and fell. “So, that’s three different stories that they told me,” Mkhulu concludes.

The video above was shot, edited and produced by Ruth, with sound engineering by Unathi Mahlati. A complete write-up of the story can be viewed here on The Daily Vox.

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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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