Michael Tshele, a freelance photographer, was shot dead on January 13, 2014, while photographing a community protest in Mothutlung near the town of Britz in the North West province, according to news reports. Protesters were demonstrating about the lack of water and sanitation in their community, news reports said.
Residents told the local privately owned weekly City Press that police shot Tshele "in cold blood" while he had a camera in his hands. Tshele, who was popularly known as "Bra Mike," was a community activist and photojournalist who had contributed to the local online daily Kormorant newspaper and the local community newspaper Leseding News, according to the 2014 "State of the Newsroom report," an annual report published by Wits University in Johannesburg.
The Wits University report cited two versions of Tshele’s death. It said that community members had said Tshele was shot by police because "he had a camera and was taking photographs of broken water pipes." The second version cited official sources as saying the journalist was a victim of crossfire between protesters and police officers.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), which is responsible for investigating alleged police misconduct, opened an inquiry into Tshele’s death, news reports said.
A few months after Tshele’s death, the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) met with Riah Phiyega, the general police commissioner, and agreed to establish a committee of senior South African police officials and SANEF members who would "improve police-media relations," according to a SANEF statement.
In October 2014, IPID recommended to the Director of Public Prosecutions that two police officers should be prosecuted for shooting dead Tshele and two protesters that day. The Director of Public Prosecutions charged both officers with murder, attempted murder, one count of illegal possession of unlicensed ammunition and one count of pointing of a firearm, according to news reports.
On January 21, 2016, the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, found former police officer Hyde Mophosho guilty of murdering Tshele and two protesters, and guilty of attempted murder of an additional two protesters, according to a letter submitted to UNESCO in response to the director general’s request for information on the status of the case.
Moses Dlamini, an IPID spokesperson, told CPJ that the second police officer was acquitted in the same trial.
In June 2016, the North Gauteng High Court sentenced Mophosho to 15 years in prison for each of the three murder charges, an additional 10 years for attempted murder, and five years for illegal possession of ammunition, according to the same document and an article in South Africa’s Sowetan newspaper.