Murder trial for Rhodes fee activist

Thembani Onceya in court. Picture: FILE
Thembani Onceya in court. Picture: FILE
A Rhodes University student at the forefront of the #FeesMustFall campaign on campus appeared briefly in the Grahamstown Magistrate’s Court yesterday on a murder charge.

Well-known poet and theatre personality Thembani Onceya was arrested on Monday when he handed himself over to police investigating the death of a 29-year-old man found wrapped in a carpet in a township dam last week.

The third-year Bachelor of Arts student was the fifth suspect arrested for the brutal murder of Thembalani Qwakanisa in Joza township. Four other men – Akhona Onceya, Simakee Onceya, Sizwe Gqotholo and Mzwanele Maki – appeared briefly in court hours before Onceya handed himself over to police.

It is not known whether he is related to the two men who share his surname.

A source close to the investigation yesterday said Qwakanisa was allegedly kidnapped and severely tortured for hours after Onceya had a laptop, takkies and money stolen during a robbery.

A post on his Facebook page on October 3 said: “you know life sucks when four young men gun point you at home.”

It said the men took his laptop, clothing, shoes and money. “These bastards drove me to the field and left me there without beating or shooting me.”

Although thankful to be alive and unharmed, Onceya said he did not know how he would account for the university work and other vital information on the laptop.

“Life defeats me when I can be killed where I think I belong. Going home was a mistake. Black pain is a real thing if you don’t know, we face these atrocities every weekend in the townships.”

More than 40 commiserations were posted, with seven referring to him as “leader”.

Qwakanisa’s body was taken from Zion Dam, which is 200m from the new Joza police station, by police divers on October 5.

Although angry residents marched to court on Monday to oppose bail for the four, only a handful of family and friends from the #FeesMustFall movement, as well as Unemployed People’s Movement leader Ayanda Kota, were present yesterday to support Onceya.

He was remanded in custody by magistrate Ntsoki Moni until Monday, when he will appear with his co-accused for a formal bail application and Legal Aid assistance.

Onceya told the court he had no previous convictions and no pending matters and was warned by Moni he faced a R40000 fine or two years’ imprisonment if it emerged he was not telling the truth.

Rhodes University spokeswoman Catherine Deiner said yesterday that Onceya’s arrest was not related to recent student protests over high university fees.

“Mr Onceya is innocent until proven guilty and the university respects the due process of the court.”

His four co-accused were arrested on Sunday and Onceya handed himself over to police the next day, when it emerged they were looking for him too.

According to his Facebook page, he was born and raised in Grahamstown and matriculated from Ntsika High School in 2007.

It said he was a journalist, writer, playwright, poet, actor and director whose work had been showcased at the National Arts Festival. — davidm@dispatch.co.za

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