Police ordered to pay R560k for unlawful arrest‚ detention of teen

25 January 2018 - 07:13 By Ernest Mabuza
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The police minister has been ordered to pay R560‚000 in damages for the unlawful arrest and detention of a young man who was in Grade 8 at the time of his arrest in 2013.

The amount awarded to Onele Mkwati on Ngqeleni in the Eastern Cape is just one amount in hundreds of millions paid by the minister of police for the wrongful conduct of its members.

In the 2015/2016 financial year‚ police paid R300-million to settle some of the claims.

In this case‚ police suspected that Mkwati had been involved in a robbery with aggravating circumstances.

Police arrested Mkwati on April 29 and only released him from custody on May 30 2013. Charges against him were dropped on release.

The National Prosecuting Authority consented to liability for malicious prosecution and consented to an order for the payment of R33‚000 in October last year.

The police also admitted to liability for unlawful arrest and detention.

The High Court in Mthatha was called upon to decide on the amount of damages to be paid to Mkwati.

Mkwati was walking from a school meeting when he was arrested and put in the back of a canopied police van with his arms handcuffed from the back.

The van was driven in a rough manner‚ causing Mkwati to lose balance and to be thrown around and sometimes hit himself against the van’s body panel.

Police were looking for his brother‚ who was eventually apprehended and also put in the back of the van.

The handcuffs were only removed upon arrival at Ngqeleni Police Station.

Mkwati was detained in a filthy cell and subjected to torture by cell inmates.

He was supplied with a dusty blanket. At times the blanket would be snatched from him‚ and he would end up leaning against the wall for the duration of the night for warmth.

The cell toilet‚ which was within view‚ was blocked‚ causing an unbearable stench.

Eastern Cape Judge President Selby Mbenenge said an inmate would relieve himself while meals were being partaken of.

“The cell was not sufficiently ventilated‚ despite the fact that the inmates would smoke dagga and tobacco. At no point were the cells ever cleaned.”

Mbenenge said the circumstances surrounding Mkwati’s arrest‚ especially en route to the police station‚ were “quite an ordeal”.

“The detention at Ngqeleni Police Station‚ under squalid circumstances‚ was inhumane and degrading in the extreme‚” Mbenenge said in a judgment passed on Tuesday.

In ordering the payment‚ Mbenenge said the primary purpose of awarding damages for unlawful arrest and detention was not to enrich the aggrieved party.

He said orders for damages were to offer the aggrieved party some compensation for his injured feelings‚ but also to ensure that the awards reflect the importance of the right to personal liberty and the seriousness with which any arbitrary deprivation of personal liberty is viewed in our law.

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