The grandmother of a Rhodes University student accused of orchestrating the brutal torture and murder of a man he thought stole his laptop will testify against him.
This emerged yesterday in the Grahamstown Magistrate’s Court during the bail application of poet and social activist Thembani Onceya.
The 28-year-old, in his third-year of studies in Xhosa and anthropology, handed himself over to police a day after they arrested two of his brothers and two friends for the alleged murder of Thembelani Qwakanisa earlier this month.
Shocking allegations of the torture Qwakanisa, 29, had to endure over more than two hours before he died include having his teeth pulled out with pliers, fingers broken with a hammer, hot water poured down his throat and burning plastic dripped over his groin.
Prosecutor Lyle Prins yesterday told magistrate Lindelwa Figlan that releasing Onceya on bail could result in him going home and having “a word with his grandmother about his alibi”.
During the bail application the state said she was one of five witnesses who placed Onceya on the scene and that she disputed his evidence that he was not present at the Joza home when it happened.
Although Onceya claimed he was back in his Cory House residence when Qwakanisa was beaten and tortured, allegedly in the student’s backroom shack, a statement to police from his grandmother said he left a day later than he claimed in court.
Prins said Onceya was accused of a “torturous, heinous murder” after his laptop went missing following a night drinking in a back room with his brothers, friends and Qwakanisa – who he only met that evening.
When he awoke the next morning, Qwakanisa and the laptop – which contained assignments and a book he was working on – were missing.
Questioning investigating officer detective John Mazana over why the grandmother and others who allegedly witnessed the murder had not been charged, Basil Williams, for Onceya, said the only evidence indicating he was there was made by the woman.
He disputed the allegations saying his client had already left the township for his university residence when Qwakanisa was allegedly tortured and killed.
It also emerged during cross examination of Mazana that there was no fixed time of death despite a postmortem being held on the body.
Williams also disputed claims Onceya posed a flight risk, was aggressive and would interfere with witnesses.
He said Mazana did not create a good impression from the outset at his bail application.
Qwakanisa’s body was rolled up in a carpet and allegedly pushed to a nearby dam in a wheelbarrow to be dumped.
The murder caused widespread outrage in Grahamstown and the court was packed again yesterday.
Although Onceya was an active leader of the #feesmustfall movement last year friends and fellow activists said he had taken a back seat this year.
Figlan will rule today on whether Onceya will get bail or not. — firstname.lastname@example.org