Writs galore as cops accuse sheriff of stealing their scrap cars

11 January 2019 - 11:35 By TANIA BROUGHTON
The police and the sheriff of Kokstad are engaged in a legal battle over the sale of seized police cars, some of which were not driveable.
The police and the sheriff of Kokstad are engaged in a legal battle over the sale of seized police cars, some of which were not driveable.
Image: kadmy / 123RF Stock Photo

The sheriff of Kokstad is locked in a legal war with the local police after she attached "scrap" vehicles and sold them at auction to settle debt.

Soon after the auction in September 2018, the police laid charges of theft against Mmankwe Mahlangu and, according to court papers, used riot police to seize back most of the vehicles from those who had bought them.

The senior public prosecutor declined to prosecute her and Mahlangu has now, in turn, laid charges against the policemen.

This week, the police launched an urgent high court application in Pietermaritzburg,  seeking an order for the restoration of the 30 vehicles, claiming they had not been scrapped and were needed for them to perform their duties.

But judge Mahendra Chetty struck the matter from the roll after hearing that all but three of the 30 vehicles had already been taken back, and when the sheriff initially seized them they were not driveable and were due to be crushed.

The judge ruled that the matter was not urgent.

The original judgments against the minister of police were granted at the Mount Currie Magistrate’s Court in 2017. One was for compensation for an unlawful assault and the other for the destruction of a vehicle.

Mahlangu, in her affidavit, said her first involvement was in October 2017 when she received the writs. At that stage almost R458,000 was owing and she met a colonel at SAPS Kokstad who pointed out certain vehicles which were not driveable, some having no engines.

These were sold at auction on September 26 2018.

Two days later, the same colonel came to her office with about 30 public order policing members wearing flak jackets and carrying shotguns, demanding the return of the vehicles.

"They forced their way in. At that stage there were only three vehicles unsold. They alleged that I had stolen the vehicles," Mahlangu said. "They took the unsold vehicles away on a flatbed truck because they were not driveable."

Mahlangu engaged the services of Durban attorney Wesley Rogers, who ascertained from four of the six buyers that the police had gone to their premises and removed vehicles they had bought at auction. The police claimed the vehicles had been "stolen" by the sheriff.

Mahlangu said they had all laid criminal charges against the police.

Regarding the urgent application, Mahlangu insisted the police had, since 2017, been aware of the impending auction.

While the police claimed that the amounts owing (in respect of the judgments) had been paid, she said they had not been paid in full and had been made "too late" to have any bearing on the auction.

Two vehicles, a Ford Ranger and a Golf GTI, which the police allege she stole, were not  removed because she had been told they were crucial for service delivery.

In his affidavit, Col Sabelo Mbeki, head of legal services in Mthatha, said the police intended to apply for a rescission of the original judgments and Mahlangu was aware of this.

He also accused her of "hiding the venue and changing the date" for the auction.

Mbeki said he was awaiting reasons for the decision not to prosecute her for theft.

"We need the vehicles which, to date, have not been recovered … they are tools which are used for policing," he said.

Attorney Rogers said the urgent application was part of the "pattern of abuse".

"My client (Mahlangu) has acted within the bounds of the law at all times," he said.