On Thursday, the violent assaults of 11 accused trespassers by security of Zululand Anthracite Colliery and the police will be exposed in Nongoma magistrate’s court with the objective of obtaining remedial interventions for physical and psychological injuries.
Nongoma, KZN –
On Thursday, 3 December 2020, the case against 11 men accused of trespassing on Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) property in February 2019 appears on the court roster of the Nongoma magistrate’s court probably for the last time. Judgement was set to be given on Monday, 18th October 2020. Notwithstanding the advanced stage of the proceedings, the court agreed to the submission of an expert psychosocial report by clinical psychologist, Sheila Berry, after she expressed concern about the psychosocial impacts following the brutal assault of the accused by ZAC’s security and the police. The term “psychosocial” is used indicate that there is a personal psychological element to the impacts plus a social element that goes beyond the individual.
Sheila Berry is also the director of the Global Environmental Trust (GET) an environmental NPO that has been working with mining affected communities neighbouring the Hhuhluwe iMfolozi Park (HiP) since 2011. This includes Somkhele, where she and her colleague, Lihle Mbokazi have been providing trauma counselling for nineteen Ophondweni residents and for the Ntshangase family following the murder of Mrs Fikile Ntshangase, who was shot six times on 22 October 2020.
Berry first heard about the 11 accused trespassers when she was invited to Nongoma by the SABC 50/50 team, in early August 2020, to contribute to a programme exposing ZAC’s contravention of numerous environmental Acts including its dishonouring of signed undertakings; the dangerous state of Western mine shaft that was closed in 2016 without rehabilitation; sinkholes that are appearing because of inadequate underground support; destruction of the Mbocwane river; unlined pollution control dams; and, illegal discharge of contaminated waste water directly into the Black iMolozi river used downstream by local communities,. The river flows through the iconic Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park to iSimangoliso World Heritage Site on the coast.
As a health professional, Berry became concerned while speaking to one of the accused, 37-year old Funokwakhe Mduduzi Ngobese, who displayed noticeable signs of post-traumatic stress.
The assault at ZAC took place on 8 February 2019 when the eleven entered ZAC’s property to hand over a letter written by the community raising complaints and concerns and stating dissatisfaction with the mine and demanding remedial action by the mine, particularly promised jobs. Instead of talking, the eleven were taken into the passage used to enter the mine and assaulted by three unknown white men in camouflage uniforms. Mr Charles Mngomezulu, ZAC security and a witness in the case, joined in the assault, beating Ngobese on the knee with a stick until it broke. There were several witnesses to the assault including mine management.
Almost two years later, Ngobese complains of back pain in the kidney area where he was beaten using the heels of his shoes. He is concerned that he sustained permanent injuries. He takes prescribed painkillers every day but sometimes doubles the dose when the pain becomes unbearable. His knee is weakened and painful. He regularly suffers from debilitating headaches and has become dependent on Grandpa powders to get through the day. Ngobese has a visible scar above his right eye and he associates his headaches with this injury.
After the ZAC assault, the accused were arrested but refused bail. After a few days in jail, four of them, including Ngobese, were taken from the Ceba holding cells to a room where eight police assaulted them. Officer Sithole organised the men to beat them up. They were badly assaulted and found themselves slipping in their own blood on the floor. The assault was to force then to write their statements. They asked for their lawyer, but he was never called. While they were writing their statements, Sithole continued to assault them. They were kept in prison for three months until the prosecutor agreed to bail.
There is ample evidence that Ngobese is suffering from post-traumatic stress compounded by concerns about his physical injuries. Ngobese described himself as “emotionally broken”. He has lost weight, has no appetite and struggles to sleep. Ngobese has found himself becoming increasingly socially and emotionally isolated. Some people view him negatively now that he has spent time in jail. They believe he must have done something bad.
Berry is hoping that her report will expose the brutality and violence meted out by ZAC and the police. Berry has recommended that ZAC be ordered to pay for medical treatment for Ngobese and for psychotherapy sessions. She warns that if not attended to, the impacts of post-traumatic stress can persist throughout a person’s lifetime manifesting as generalized anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms, depression, helplessness, uncontrollable anger that saps the person of a sense of happiness and well-being that can result in suicide. Invariably this creates havoc in their lives and the lives of those around them.