2007-04-29 : Mourners shot as funeral gun salute backfires

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2007-04-29 : Mourners shot as funeral gun salute backfires

Postby GOSA » Wed, 2007-05-02 07:19

http://www.sundaytimes.co.za/article.aspx?ID=448303

Mourners shot as funeral gun salute backfires

VICTOR KHUPISO
29 April 2007

A veteran soldier fired shots in the air, as a mark of respect — but he shot one mourner in the head and a pallbearer in the shoulder

A gun salute at the funeral of a veteran ANC fighter went horribly wrong — leaving one mourner dead and another seriously wounded.

Former Umkhonto weSizwe soldiers dressed in camouflage uniforms came from all over the Vaal area to attend the funeral of Sebokeng’s Henry Funda Mkhatshwa last Saturday.

While Mkhatshwa’s body was being carried from his home to the hearse, a veteran soldier fired several shots in the air, as a mark of respect — but he shot one mourner in the head and a pallbearer in the shoulder.

There was pandemonium as mourners scattered and bullets ricocheted off surrounding homes.

Molefi Molefe, 34, fell to the ground and died after being shot in the head. Regional chairman of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veteran’s Association, Jones “Zhukov” Mokoena, was hit in the shoulder.

Bystanders said the shooter — who the police would not name, as the case against him was temporarily withdrawn because no witnesses had come forward to assist the police — was also a member of the organisation.

Bystanders said the man had apologised after the incident, saying he made a “mistake” and his actions were caused by “grief that a comrade had passed on”.

But Mokoena said there was no need for a gun salute at a funeral. “We have long banned this irresponsible practice. Everyone was shocked when they heard a gun being fired,” he said.

“We could not stop him. Afterwards I realised that I had been shot in the back. I went to check on Molefi and found he was bleeding and blood was even oozing from his mouth. We checked his pulse and he was already dead.”

Mokoena, who has since been discharged from Sebokeng Hospital, said doctors couldn’t remove the bullet from his body because it was “lodged centimetres from my heart”. But what really pains him is that Mkhatshwa’s funeral was turned into a fiasco. “We were supposed to give him a proper sendoff, not turn his funeral into a bloodbath,” he said.

Mokoena said steps would be taken in future to ensure this did not happen again.

“Whenever there is a funeral we will ensure that no guns are carried, to prevent the repetition of this diabolical act. We will even go to the extent of conducting body searches,” he said.

The dead mourner’s sister, Liza Molefe, said she last saw her “smiling” brother when he was on his way the funeral. “I was shocked when people arrived to say I must come and identify a person who had been wounded at a funeral ... Something has to be done about this gun-salute ceremony. It is wrong and dangerous. It should be banned.”

Vaal police spokesman Inspector Trudie Wilken said a suspect had handed himself over to the police.

He appeared in the Sebokeng Magistrate’s Court last Monday, but the case was temporarily withdrawn to allow the police to seek witnesses.

“The only hindrance at this point is that no witnesses at the scene have come forward to help the police so that the case can resume,” she said.
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