Wrongful arrest: Paraplegic awarded R300 000

2008-05-26 00:00

A hijack victim who was rendered paraplegic in a shootout during a robbery and murder and then detained for more than five months — having been wrongly charged for the incident — has been awarded damages of more than R300 000.

The judgment slammed as “inhuman and degrading” the treatment of Sikhumubuzo Nkosinathi Sibiya at the hands of police and found that police stations are not equipped to cater for prisoners with disabilities.

Sibiya (24) initially sued the minister of Safety and Security for R2 million arising from his unlawful arrest and detention from March 9, 2005 to August 23, 2005.

Judge Sharmaine Balton earlier ruled that he was entitled to damages, and yesterday’s judgment had to decide only the amount.

According to the judgment, Sibiya was shot three times during the incident, which rendered him a paraplegic. He received medical treatment at the Tshelejuba and Ngwelezane hospitals until July 11, 2005 and was then detained at the Empangeni Police Station and in the Pongola police cells until his release.

For the hospital detention — in conditions in which he was humiliated, unable to receive visitors and that were traumatic as a result of his being held captive and under constant police guard — the judge awarded damages totalling R93 750, and for the period he spent in police cells, he was awarded R215 000.

Sibiya testified that on the trip to the Pongola police cells, he was made to sit on the floor in the back of an open police bakkie with one hand cuffed to the vehicle. The trip lasted about three hours and he was not given food or water. His wheelchair was folded and kept to the side of him.

At Pongola he was put in a cell with about 60 awaiting-trial prisoners, which was too crowded for him to use the wheelchair. He was not given his callipers.

The cell was “filthy” and infested with crawling insects. There was no mattress and he slept on a blanket on the cold, dirty cement floor.

He was unable to move about the cell and could not use the washing facilities. The other prisoners gave him a two-litre ice-cream container with water to wash himself with.

His condition deteriorated as a result of a lack of medical attention and the unhygenic conditions. His pleas for medical assistance were in vain and he stopped asking.

In the last two weeks before his release, he was moved to another cell with one other prisoner, but again had no bed. The court heard that he witnessed prisoners being physically abused, sexually assaulted and taunted by other prisoners on a daily basis.

Balton said the evidence illustrated that Sibiya was not afforded any of the basic rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights while detained by the SAPS.

The police treated him in an “inhuman and degrading manner by ignoring his disability” and during the trip handcuffed in the bakkie, she said. He posed no threat to the police as he was unable to walk.

She said the evidence showed police stations are not equipped to cater for prisoners with disabilities and police also made no effort to ensure that Sibiya was accorded respect for his condition.

The judge said the conditions were degrading and inhuman to any person, “let alone” one in Sibiya’s condition. He was undoubtedly traumatised.

Awarding Sibiya damages of R5 000 per day for the 43 days in police cells (a total of R215 000), the judge said the failure of the police to provide care for a physically disabled person played a key role in the determination of the award.

ingrido@witness.co.za

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