Men awarded damages for arrest and torture

2015-02-05 00:00

HIGH court appeal judges have ­approved a damages award of over R300 000 each to four men who were wrongly arrested for bank robbery, tortured by police and maliciously ­prosecuted in 2007.

Sipho Mzizi was awarded R310 000, and Sibongiseni Zwane, Henry Zondi and Drift Malope R320 000 each.

Judges Philip Nkosi and David Ntshangase found in a reserved ­judgment that the “substantial” damages awards to each man were justified.

They said the magistrate who awarded the damages had “good reasons to be appalled” by the conduct of ­Organised Crime Unit members.

“The arbitrary deprivation and ­infringement of human rights is ­jealously guarded by our courts.

“The conduct of the appellant’s [the minister of Safety and Security] ­employees was repugnant and ­criminal,” said Nkosi.

He said the victims’ human rights were infringed without reasonable or probable cause.

Police had not contested the allegations against them.

The four men were arrested on ­November 30, 2007, at a shopping mall in Port Shepstone and accused of having robbed a bank at gunpoint.

They were accosted near a vehicle belonging to Mzizi.

The judge said police surrounded the vehicle, took Mzizi’s key from him, and opened and searched the car while other officers accosted Zwane, Zondi and Malope.

They were searched, handcuffed and made to lie on the ground in broad daylight in full view of passersby.

Although nothing illegal was found, they were taken to the OCU offices where they were all tortured in similar manner.

The victims’ hands were cuffed ­behind their backs, and they were punched and kicked.

Their faces were covered with tubes, they were stripped to the waist and electric shocks were administered to their upper bodies.

They were told to tap their feet if they wanted to confess to the robbery and disclose where the firearms were.

The torture went on for about two-and-a-half hours, until it became clear that no helpful information was forthcoming.

Police later claimed to have found a small firearm in Mzizi’s vehicle.

The men were detained over the weekend in a crowded cell under squalid conditions without blankets to sleep and released on bail on the following Monday.

They appeared in court 13 times until they were found not guilty and discharged on February 20, 2009.

The appeal judges said the OCU members had “acted with total disregard for the sanctity of human values espoused in our constitution”.

The minister was ordered to pay damages to the victims for unlawful arrest and detention, assault, unlawful search and malicious prosecution — plus interest at a rate of 15,5% from the date of demand to the date of payment and the legal costs of the case.

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