In October 1981 Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) operatives bombed Sibasa Police Station in independent Vendaland. Several policemen were killed in the attack. The Homeland was seized by fear and panic, with the government expecting follow up attacks on other key installations in the area. The reaction of Vendaland’s security police to the attack was brutal. Having failed to apprehend the cadres behind the attack, police concluded that there were activists inside the Homeland guilty of aiding and abetting the MK cadres. A search for accomplices inside the homeland was undertaken.
Tshifiwa Moufhe, Ndanganeni Phaswana and two other Lutheran priests were suspected as accomplices. This was because the four were respected church and community leaders with a strong following in Vendaland. Moufhe and Phaswana in particular were known to have been close friends of Cyril Ramaphosa, with whom they had been involved in evangelical crusades across the Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo Province).
Despite their vehement denials, the security police were convinced that the four were indeed MK contacts inside the homeland. Moufhe died in police custody on 7 January 1982 during interrogation. His death was brutal and callous. Policemen identified as his interrogators boasted to the other detainee, Phaswana, threatening to kill him as they did Moufhe. Another Lutheran minister, the Rev Mbulaheni Phosiwa, was arrested and detained several times after the bomb blast.
In October 1996 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) heard testimonies from victims of police brutality in Vendaland in the 1980s. Phaswana and Phosiwa described to the TRC how they were brutalised and subjected to electric shocks during interrogation. Phosiwa suffered hypertension and sued the Venda government for damages after his release and was paid R3000 in an out-of-court settlement.
None of the police implicated in Moufhe’s death were punished for the needless killing of the Lutheran Church elder. The TRC’s pronouncement on the matter was that Sgts Ramaligela and Mangaka, both mentioned in testimony related to police torture, might be subpoenaed to testify before the commission.
• Sapa 04 Oct.96 (1996) TRC hears of Venda Police Station bombing [online] Available at https://www.justice.gov.za/trc/media/1996/9610/s961004e.htm (Accessed on 3 January 2012)