Man who was assaulted by police dies three months later

Ugochukwu Emmanuel Nnoli’s family suspect the assault played a role in his death

By Mary-Anne Gontsana

20 February 2024

Ugochukwu Emmanuel Nnoli was assaulted by police in November 2023. He died on 4 February in hospital. He had been complaining of abdominal pain and headaches since the assault. Photo supplied

Ugochukwu Emmanuel Nnoli was assaulted by police officers on 7 November 2023 during a raid at his place of work. Since then, he had been in pain, according to his family. On 4 February, he died in hospital.

“It was last month when things got unbearable for him. He just couldn’t stand the pain that was coming from his stomach, and he had a terrible headache. He went to Groote Schuur hospital on 24 January and was admitted,” Nnoli’s distraught younger brother, Chukwuebuka ThankGod Igboeri, told GroundUp.

Igboeri said he had visited his brother every day. He had seemed to be improving.

“I still do not know what the cause of my brother’s death was. All I was told at the hospital was that it was natural causes. I don’t even know if an autopsy was done.”

The assault was recorded by one of Nnoli’s friends. In the video, Nnoli can be seen being searched, manhandled, forced to the ground, kicked, and beaten by two of five armed SAPS officers at Perfect Touch Car Wash in Mowbray.

“After the incident, my brother did not go to the hospital, he only went to the pharmacy and got pain medication,” said Igboeri.

“He has two young children back home in Nigeria and he hadn’t even been in South Africa for a year, and now he is gone. Now he will go back home in a coffin.”

The family is now trying to raise the money to repatriate his body.

Nnoli spoke to GroundUp the day after he was assaulted. He said the assault had left him traumatised. It was the second time the car wash had been raided. He had not been beaten during the previous raid.

Nnoli’s assault took place on the same day as that of barber Juma Igiranieza, who was assaulted at the Perfect Touch Hair Salon, which houses the car wash. Igiranieza’s assault was captured on CCTV footage.

At a meeting of the South African National Editors Forum, weeks after the assault of Igiranieza, Minister of Police Bheki Cele said, “I am told that IPID [the police watchdog] is working on this particular case and many others and will make recommendations. We will try to move fast.”

But Cele’s spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba, has not responded to GroundUp’s subsequent questions. We have also not been able to identify the names of the officers involved in the assaults.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) told us last month: “The investigation in this matter is still ongoing. The only challenge for the investigators is the identification of the alleged suspects, but we are hopeful this will be resolved soon.”