Answers still sought on sex worker’s death

An activist has put up a life-size picture of sex worker Robyn Montsumi near the Mowbray police station following her death in detention there earlier this year.

A life-size picture of a sex worker is calling for answers to the questions that surround her death in a Mowbray police cell.

Robyn Montsumi, 39, was found hanging in the cell earlier this year after police detained her for possession of drugs.

Clinton Osborne, a training coordinator for the Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), placed a cut-out of Ms Montsumi in Main Road, 20 metres from the police station, on Tuesday September 22.

“It is important that people know what happened to her,” he said.

A speech bubble on the picture says: “My name is Robyn Montsumi, I died in the Mowbray police station on 12 April. My family, friends, and my partner deserve to know the truth about what happened to me, I deserve justice.”

The picture has been removed since last week Friday October 2. Mr Osborne says he is not sure who removed the picture.

Ndelika Cola, a spokeswoman for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), told the Tatler in June that Ms Montsumi had been arrested on April 9 for possession of drugs and had been detained alone in a police cell at Mowbray police station for three days.

At the time, Ms Cola said it was suspected Ms Montsumi had committed suicide

This week, in response to queries from the Tatler, Ms Cola said in a WhatsApp message that Ipid had finalised its investigation and had sent the docket to SAPS for an inquiry. Further emails and text messages seeking clarity on this statement went unanswered as did our calls to Ms Cola’s cellphone.

Ms Montsumi’s death caused anger among fellow sex workers and activists from Sweat, Sisonke, the National Movement of Sex Workers, the Triangle Project and the Black People’s National Crisis Committee (BPNCC). The BPNCC led a march to the Mowbray police station demanding answers from the police.

Sisonke spokeswoman, Yonela Sinqu, said Ms Montsumi’s case was one more example of injustices suffered in police custody.

“No further reports have been received from Ipid regarding the matter,” she said.

Ms Montsumi had been a “very vocal, petite and feisty individual who was aware of her rights”, she said, adding that she had been “deeply engaged in the fight for sex worker human rights as a whole”.

Ms Sinqu said she hoped Mr Osborne’s picture would lead to someone coming forward who could shed more light on the circumstances surrounding Ms Montsumi’s death.

The BPNCC’s Songezo Maziz said the police and justice system should give the same priority to all cases, no matter the victim’s social standing.

Provincial police spokesman, Colonel André Traut, said police were doing an inquest investigation into Ms Montsumi’s death.

“The investigation of a death inquest case docket entails the gathering of all relevant information pertaining to the death of a person when no crime is suspected,” he said.

Once the inquest case docket had been finalised, it would be presented to court for an inquest hearing, he said.