Police must pay R96,000 in damages to gospel singer after warrantless search
A gospel singer who was spurned by her community and branded a thief after an unlawful police raid on her home has won a damages claim against the police.
Matshidiso Jeanette Shashape, who lives in Tlakgameng Village in North West, sang, danced and headed a local children’s cultural group. She supplemented her income through the sale of CDs of her work.
All that changed in March 2018, after local police broke into and raided her RDP house without a warrant. They said they had received an anonymous tip-off that she was in possession of the meat of two cows that had been stolen from “white farmers” and slaughtered.
Shashape denied any involvement. She said she had bought the strips of meat which police found in her kitchen at an abattoir.
She was not arrested, charged or prosecuted. But she was “disgraced”.
Giving evidence in her damages claim before the Mahikeng high court, she said a week after the raid she had to abandon a performance after members of the audience walked out, “gesticulating by throwing their arms in the air backwards”.
Neighbours stopped visiting. Her family members were viewed with suspicion every time something went missing. One of her children came home crying, saying someone at school accused the family of stealing. Parents refused to allow their children to participate in her cultural group. No-one would buy her CDs.
Judge Festus Gura noted that her evidence came to an abrupt end when she became emotional, broke down and cried.
Read the judgment
He said section 22 of the Criminal Procedure Act prescribed that a warrantless search and seizure was only permissible if there was consent, or if there was reasonable grounds to believe that a warrant would be issued and any delay would defeat the object of the search.
In this matter, no-one had consented.
The onus rested on the minister to justify the actions of inspectors Phiricwane and Matonyane, stationed at Ganyesa police station, but there had been no explanation at all.
“In my view, Shashape was an honest, truthful and reliable witness and the court accepts her account as a correct version of what happened that day. On a balance of probabilities, I am satisfied that the search was unlawful, and went against the criteria laid down in section 22,” said judge Gura.
“Her appearance, facial expression, the tone of her voice, her temperament and mood in the witness box tells it all.
“She is emotionally shattered. Her and her family’s dignity and self-esteem is gone. It will take time to heal the psychological wounds which this family has suffered. Her health has been compromised. Her income has suffered a battering. This unlawful invasion of this family’s rights to privacy has directly put a spoke in the wheels of her music career. Now she is left to be a beggar,” the judge said.
“She was neither arrested, charged nor prosecuted in respect of the beef that was found by the police in her kitchen on Saturday March 24 2018. She did not have any knowledge of the meat which was stolen at the farm on Friday night, March 23 2018 as she was neither involved nor participated in the theft thereof,” Gura wrote
In awarding her damages of R96,000, he said that while Shashape retained her talent, “there is no-one to entertain because who is interested to listen to the lyrics of a suspected thief?”
“This evil act was perpetrated by police officers whose constitutional duty is to protect society.”
This article was first published by GroundUp.