On May 22, 2019, South African journalist Thamsanqa Junior Bonase was found bludgeoned to death on the side of a road in Heuningspruit, about 240 kilometers north of Bloemfontein, the capital of the Free State province, according to media reports.
Bonase, 41, was a senior reporter at the Bloemfontein-based Dumelang News newspaper and also contributed to the local newspaper Tharollo News.
He had previously worked at other media outlets, including the Med FM radio station and the Public Eye, Letsholo News, Xhariep Independence, and Sports Eye newspapers, according to news reports.
One week before he was killed, Bonase was elected the chairman of the Free State Media Cooperative, an organization aimed at promoting small print media in the province, according to a statement the organization issued on Facebook after his death.
Bonase’s body was discovered at the side of a road at 11 p.m. on May 22 by a passer-by who alerted police, according to an article in the Sowetan newspaper. Free State police spokesperson Colonel Thandi Mbambo told CPJ via messaging app that a post-mortem revealed that Bonase had died as a result of “multi blunt force injuries.” No suspect had been arrested, she said.
Bonase’s laptop, phone, and camera were found damaged by his side and no information could be retrieved from the devices, she said. The case was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which will review the evidence presented and decide whether to pursue a prosecution, Mbambo said.
Bonase’s brother, Mohau Leine, told the Daily Sun newspaper that when he went to identify Bonase’s body, “he had terrible injuries to his face.”
A colleague of Bonase who asked not to named because of the suspicious nature of the journalist’s death, told CPJ that Bonase’s face was so battered that he was unrecognizable. The colleague said robbery appeared to be ruled out, as the journalist’s wallet and his damaged equipment was found next to him.
An OFM radio news report said Bonase was traveling to Parys, 300 kilometers north of Bloemfontein, “to follow up on a story” when he was killed.
Free State Media Cooperative spokesman Khayalethu Mtsantsa told CPJ that Bonase was on a work assignment when he died. He had boarded a minibus taxi to Parys and never arrived at his destination, Mtsantsa said.
A local newspaper, the Bloemfontein Courant, reported that Bonase’s death had come as a great shock to the community amid speculation that it might be related to an investigative story he was working on, but “there has been no conclusive evidence to verify that.”
Another colleague, Matli Mohanoe, told CPJ that he doubted Bonase’s death was linked to his work because he was not working on any story that “might have upset anyone.” Mtsantsa said that he was unaware of any threats against the media in the region.
Dumelang Media director O’Neil Nair told CPJ that as far as he was aware, Bonase was not “covering anything of an investigative nature or controversial as such.”
Bonase was nominated for one of South Africa’s top journalism honors, the regional Vodacom journalist of the year award in the investigative category in 2018, according to a statement by the awards’ sponsor. Bonase won the online category in the same awards in 2015, according to a statement by the SA National Editors’ Forum.