The death of a Tanzanian PhD student from the University of Johannesburg, allegedly at the hands of a taxi driver, has left the university and his friends reeling.
A close friend and colleague of Baraka Leonard Nafari believed that he was murdered last Friday because he wasn’t South African. The police are still investigating, and the university called on the community to stop speculating and let the police finish their investigation.
The friend, who wished to be named Peter, said they knew something was wrong when he didn’t go to work.
“Baraka is always on time and present and when he isn’t able to be here he usually communicates it to us,” said Peter.
Colleagues and friends of Nafari, a PhD student and research assistant, went to Brixton Police Station to file a missing person’s report.
“On Saturday we went to the police but didn’t get far so we decided to go to the UJ Security service,” Peter told City Press.
He said that the university’s security company had video footage, which they watched.
“We saw Baraka and another student running near Sophiatown Residence [A university residence located opposite Campus square, Auckland Park], and a taxi was chasing them.”
This, said Peter, was in the early hours of Friday, February 23.
Peter said from the footage it was unclear if any weapons were in the possession of the drivers.
“But we could see that Baraka and the friend were so scared and running unarmed,” he said.
According to Peter, the taxi driver had made a statement to police, and had said that Baraka and his friend had weapons and were “makwerekwere” (xenophobic term for non South Africans) who were armed and tried to hijack them.
“From the footage we saw it was clear that the taxi deliberately struck Baraka against the fence of the Sophiatown residence and killed him. And yet, despite these facts, the driver of the taxi was arrested for driving without a licence, even though he was found next to a dead body. He was released on bail, and the other person in the taxi was released without charge.”
Peter says the case appeared before a magistrate who declined to put the case on the roll because there was no evidence disputing the taxi driver’s version of events.
“The university hadn’t handed over the footage to the SAPS at the time and I believe, after a statement by the Tanzania embassy in South Africa as well as Nafari’s former university, there seems to be some movement.”
City Press was unable to speak to the friend who was with Nafari at the time of the attack.
“We have taken him to see a psychologist and psychiatrist as he is still in great shock and can’t speak to the media,” Peter said.
Spokesperson for the University of Johannesburg, Herman Esterhuizen, said: “It has been a week of loss and of great sorrow, one that has shaken the entire university community.”
He confirmed that Nafari was knocked down by a vehicle just outside the university’s premises in Auckland Park.
“The South African Police Service is currently investigating the incident and we are resolutely working closely with them to shed light on this matter.”
Both the investigating officer from Brixton Police Station and the Tanzanian high commission in Pretoria had not responded to queries at the time of publication.
Esterhuizen added that, “in fairness to all parties concerned, students and staff are asked to refrain from speculation and allow the SAPS investigators to complete their work to ascertain the facts of the matter”.
Peter added that the university was a Pan-African institution – a home for students from across the continent.
“We will not let the questions surrounding his murder go unanswered. We have reached out to the South African Human Rights Commission to supervise the investigation.”