Family celebrates murdered woman’s birthday in court protest

Bongeka Phungula and Popi Qwabe. (Facebook)

Bongeka Phungula and Popi Qwabe. (Facebook)


Johannesburg – Popi Qwabe, one of two women who was shot dead in Soweto in May after being kidnapped and robbed, would have celebrated her 25th birthday on Thursday.

Her mother, sister and close friends arrived dressed in black holding up placards which read “#JusticeForPopi&Bongeka” and “No Bail!!!” stood outside the Protea Magistrate’s Court in protest of the bail hearing for the two men charged with the women’s kidnapping, robberies and murders.

“It’s sad that we can’t even celebrate her birthday,” her sister Thembelihle said while holding up her board.

Thembelihle said that if her sister had been alive, all she would have wanted was a simple “Happy Birthday, Popi” message from her sibling to make her day.

“I know that she wasn’t very fussy about birthdays… and it’s sad that she was turning 25. I think that’s where your life begins, that’s where you start saying, ‘Now I’m an adult, and I can start doing things with my life’, and it’s sad.

“This is what we are doing for her [for her birthday], we are fighting for her.”

On May 12, Qwabe’s body was discovered near Naledi High School by a passerby. She had been shot and left for dead. She had been shot in the upper body.

According to Soweto West Cluster Commander Major General, Fred Kekana, she was taken to Bheki Mlangeni Hospital in Jabulani but had succumbed to her injuries upon arrival.

Less than 24 hours later, her close friend Bongeka Phungula, 28, was discovered in Tladi, a neighbouring township less than 3km away from where Qwabe had been found. Phungula had also been shot in the upper body.

‘She was always laughing’

Both women were originally from Mayville, Durban, in KwaZulu-Natal. They had both moved to Johannesburg to pursue their acting and singing careers. They were living together with Thembelihle in Zola, Soweto, another neighbouring suburb not too far from where their bodies were discovered.

Phungula, who was best friends with Thembelihle, had left her job at a call centre in Durban and sold her car to pursue her dreams in the city of gold.

“She said, ‘Friend, I’m coming there. I can’t be wasting my time here working at this call centre while I watch my dreams die. Even if it means we have to be cramped into one house, I’m coming’,” Thembelihle said, recalling the conversation.

She described her friend as a strong and brutally honest woman, who was not a morning person.

“Bongeka was the type of person who could not lie, she would call a spade a spade.”

She had big dreams of being an actress, Thembelihle said.

“She wanted to act, with everything in her. There was nothing that she wanted more than that. She was so strong and never gave up.”

Her sister Popi also had dreams of hitting the big time as a singer and actress. Everyone who met Popi knew her as a bubbly personality who was constantly laughing at one thing or another.

Thembelihle described her sister as having the personality of a five-year-old.

“She was always laughing, even when things were serious. She was just silly… like a cartoon.

“She was crazy talented at dancing, singing, acting, directing, writing… always ambitious.”

Although those who loved the two women were saddened by what had happened, they would not remain quiet until justice was served, Thembelihle said.

“We want justice, that’s what we want. We want justice for our sisters and we feel that it’s not fair for the suspects to be seen as people who deserve bail. We are here to oppose bail. We are here to fight, we are here to get what we deserve,” she said.

She admitted to feeling a tinge of guilt for inviting the girls to move to Johannesburg to pursue their dreams, only to end up dying at the hands of brutal attackers before getting a chance to see them come true.

“I feel like all those people who were telling me not to move to Joburg, saying it was too dangerous and telling me to pursue acting at home in Durban are looking at me like, ‘Yes, we told you’. Because I lived with these girls, both of them, and now I’m left by myself.”

The bail hearing for Alek Magaula MaMothame, 43, and Sandile Nkosi, 25 – who both face charges of kidnapping, robbing and killing the women – continued on Thursday.

Investigating officer Constable Sibusiso Masuku was called before the court to explain to Magistrate Herman Badenhorst why he opposed the men’s application for bail.

The hearing was adjourned to Friday for further evidence to be given.

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