How the law failed a man who died because of a t-shirt
The Coroner, Nondumiso Simelane, finally released her report into investigations surrounding the death of political activist, Sipho Jele. It is a disgraceful work of judicial inquiry that should leave any self-respecting Swazi ashamed. Simelane must be the most incompetent judicial officer this country has ever seen. She thinks Jele was Spiderman who walked up a wall to hang himself.
BHEKI MAKHUBU reports.
Coroner, Nondumiso Simelane’s report on the death of , the political activist who died in police custody in May last year, does not help the Jele family, his so-called comrades and a concerned public to find closure to he matter. It does not tell us what exactly killed this young man. The report raises more questions than it provides answers. Instead, Simelane’s 21-page report, released to the media on Friday March 04 seeks to absolve the security forces, under whose custody Jele was, on the night he died, from any culpability. There too, this former police officer and now Principal Magistrate did a pathetic job. Right at the beginning of the report, in her executive summary, Simelane in trying to resolve the mystery around Jele’s hanging gives a fanciful exposition of how Jele hung himself, so improbable the events she describes even the writers of the comic book “Spiderman” would have rejected it out of hand.
“Upon close examination of the scene by the Coroner, the Inquest team together with the pathologists, as well as a thorough examination of the photographs of the deceased captured at the scene, both pathologists came to the conclusion that it is possible for the deceased to have mounted himself upwards from the floor and then suspended himself without the use of a platform.
“This is possible, inter alia, by the deceased standing under the beam at the entrance to the shower, then pressing his back against one side of that entrance wall while pressing his feet against the opposite side and then sliding his body upwards until the point of the beam.
“And that after the ligature was applied to the beam and neck he could have “lowered” himself and the feet would still be above the floor.”
What Simelane is saying here is that Jele literally walked up a wall like Spiderman.
Other than the fact that this assertion is ridiculous, her report later exposes why Jele could never have been able to walk up a wall and hung himself even if he tried. First of all Simelane tells us towards the end of the report that “he did not have any sickness from which he could die, although he had acute tonsillitis…
“There was also noted TB in the lungs and liver, but not such as would kill him.” What Simelane and the pathologists don’t explain is how a man with tonsillitis and TB could walk up a wall. Would he have had the energy in that state of health? Second, Simelane says: “There were also no signs of injury (on the) soles of the feet…
“Observed injuries were some three small dark brown lesions on the right lower back. There was also one similar dark brown lesion on the left lower back.
“These were taken and examined under the microscope and they were found to have features typical of an insect bite and the doctors concluded that the deceased may have been scratching such insect bite because it must have been itching.” After excluding all else that might have harmed Jele under his feet and back, the Coroner also did not find any evidence to support her Spiderman walk up a wall. There was nothing on Jele’s back to suggest that in his bid to get to the beam, he might have scratched himself against the wall as he crawled up, nor was there anything under his feet to give evidence of friction against the wall while he pulled off this incredible feat in defiance of all the laws of gravity.
The report also details what appears to have been a very thorough examination of Jele’s body to establish whether there were any injuries, particularly of a homicidal nature. In her desperate bid to absolve all suspected of having caused Jele’s death, Coroner Simelane reports that around the neck “there were no such bruises and no fractures of the hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage. There were also no fractures of the cervical spine.”
The hyoid bone, according to the dictionary, is the U-shaped bone at the base of the tongue that supports the muscles of the tongue. The thyroid cartilage is the largest cartilage of the larynx, having two broad processes that join anteriorly to form the Adam’s apple.
If these two bones were not even disturbed when Jele hung himself, then what was?
Simelane does not answer that question. The only disturbance around the neck area is a ligature mark which was left by the material of the blanket Jele is alleged to have used to hang himself. “Upon removing the ligature (blanket) the doctors observed that the ligature had left an abrasion.
“They concluded that the abrasion was a result of friction between the ligature material and the skin of the neck because such abrasion was running virtually transverse on the front.” We are not told at this critical juncture whether the abrasion on Jele’s neck had occurred before or after he had died. It’s an important question. The two pathologists had all the qualifications to establish this. Why was this question not answered in the report?
The question of how Jele got to the beam he is alleged to have hung from is, perhaps, the most critical element to the inquiry of how he died. To give credit to an implausible explanation of how the coroner and pathologists think he might have climbed a wall speaks to the level of dishonesty in how Simelane dealt with the matter. Forensic experts in scenes of crime are a dime a dozen in today’s world. It would never have been too difficult to find one from any of the more progressive countries as was done to find the family pathologist who examined Jele’s body.
It is important to note that Simelane as coroner, her team and the two pathologists have absolutely no qualification to make judgment on how Jele got to the beam. That’s a fact. This explains why they could not find a plausible explanation for it and then sought to find an answer in dream world.
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