NO CELLPHONES or handbags allowed, the guards at Johannesburg Prison tell us as we enter. Another woman coming to visit someone at the jail is asked to drink her unopened can of Coke or forget about her visit.
After signing a batch of forms the guards search our plastic carrier bag, removing the mangos, plums and bananas we had been asked to bring along. We’re told the cigarettes we brought need to be taken out of the original packaging and placed in a transparent plastic bag. Then we’re subjected to a full-body search before proceeding to the waiting room.
It’s a sunny morning when we visit Pitch Black Afro at the security facility, but none of the warm rays reach the inner parts of this place. He’s been here pending his bail application and his bail hearing has been postponed several times.
At his appearance on 25 January the 40-year old, real name Thulani Ngcobo, was asked to comply with the state’s request for DNA testing so his bail application can be finalised.
The rapper has been charged with premeditated murder and defeating the ends of justice after his wife of 23 years, Catherine “Tricia” Modisane (41), was found dead at a bed and breakfast in Yeoville, Johannesburg on 1 January. Pitch Black has been behind bars for three weeks when we arrange to meet him for an exclusive interview.
The corridors we’re taken through are like a maze and the smell of cheap pine detergent permeates the air. A prison official wearing an orange jumpsuit walks around the waiting room wiping tables and mopping the floor. He’s friendly as he calls out to us, “Pitch is waiting in the visiting area.”
The rapper is wearing the same olive-coloured shirt and blue jeans he wore on his previous two court appearances. His signature Afro has been braided into plaits, and he flashes his trademark crooked smile as we take a seat in the visitors’ cubicle.
A thick frosted glass and sturdy horizontal bars separate us.
“Thanks for the visit bafethu (man),” Pitch Black says when we’re seated.
He lights up when he receives the fruit we’ve brought along and quickly sifts through the plastic bag.
“Shot, my sister,” he says through the cubicle’s speaker and fist bumps the frosted glass.
Having unpacked the apples and peaches the guards have given him, the rapper can’t seem to sit still. He’s hyperactive and struggles to maintain eye contact.
“The advocate advised me not to speak to anyone as it might affect my case, but I’m innocent,” he says.
“People are painting me out to be a murderer in the media, saying all these terrible things about me. I’m not a perfect man, but how can I kill my own wife of so many years?” he asks.
He is, he claims, being framed.
He wants his day in court so he can tell his side of the story. According to a police spokesperson, Tricia’s lifeless body was found with bruises to her upper body. Bloody towels were also found on the scene, Colonel Lungelo Dlamini reveals to DRUM.
The rapper was arrested a few days after a pathologist’s report indicated she had been murdered.
A family member close to Tricia who lived with the couple for many years says he was shocked when he saw the news that Pitch Black is a suspect in the murder case of his wife.
“I saw in the news Thulani’s wife had died. Something in me made me wonder if he might have had anything to do with her death, but I didn’t entertain the thought,” he says.
After hearing the rapper was arrested, the family member says he wasn’t surprised.
“Thulani has always had a short temper,” says the relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I love him like a brother but it’s like he had a demon or he was possessed when drunk and angry,” he says. “You know, he beat Tricia on 11 June 2010 during the [Fifa] World Cup. I even know the date.
“He beat her so badly that his right middle finger broke after he hit it on the kitchen counter. We were there and we tried to stop him,” he says.
A close friend of the rapper says he was told by Pitch Black that Tricia had fallen the night before she was found dead.
“Thulani told me she fell on her head and she didn’t go to the doctor because she didn’t think it was a serious thing. She then started bleeding from her mouth and died in the morning after he had phoned an ambulance. But I don’t know what to believe anymore.”
Pitch Black claims he’s innocent of Tricia’s murder.
“The bloody towels the police say they found at the B&B were planted,” he says. “The guesthouse only gave us two towels for the night.”
Contacted by DRUM, a staff member at the guesthouse says they usually place three towels in each room. But she says she wasn’t on duty on the night Tricia died and cannot confirm how many towels were placed in their room.
Pitch Black and Tricia had stayed at the bed and breakfast so they could attend a New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s place nearby (The dark side of love, 24 January).
“There are people who know what happened but I didn’t even see them in court. Even my friend who my wife and I went to visit hasn’t come to see me in jail,” Pitch Black says.
He scratches his head with both hands before he continues.
“I want to tell my side in court.”
ON THE night he was arrested, Pitch Black claims police manhandled him. He shows us a cut on his wrist. “Yoh man, those people kicked me like I was a dog and squeezed the handcuffs,” he says.
Colonel Dlamini says he isn’t aware of such claims.
“I can’t comment on whether the suspect was assaulted when he was being arrested because if that was the case, he was supposed to open a case of assault against the arresting officer.”
Pitch Black says he’s been advised not to go into too much detail about that fateful night, and he quickly changes the topic.
He twists his braided hair as he tells DRUM about prison life.
“This place is something else – there are doctors, lawyers, fraudsters and priests. There’s even a hairdresser who plaited my hair,” he says.
Jail is a far cry from the high life the Matofotofo rapper once enjoyed – he now shares a cell with about eight awaiting-trial inmates.
“I’m Pitch Black Afro, man, I know how to speak for myself,” he says. “Ngi hleli na
majita from ekasi (I’m with some gents from my township).
“Some are from Orlando and other parts of Soweto.”
He compares his stay to “a controlled holiday”.
“If I stay here too long, I might gain weight because I’m eating too much. Cava (check) my T-shirt is crisp white. I’m not a nyaope dude. I wash my clothes every day and other people even ask me to wash theirs. But I can’t wait to get out of here, man,” he says.
At the time of going to print, Pitch Black Afro’s next court date was set for 30 January when his bail application was set to continue.
For now he spends his days planning a concert for fellow inmates.
“They asked for a show and why not? They can get speakers and a sound system, and we can do this. Just to uplift the amajita (guys), you know.”