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Pretoria - A Beit Bridge police captain was “acting as if he was power drunk” when he unlawfully arrested an export manager, a high court judge in Pretoria said on Monday.
This led to the manager being detained in a shipping container for three days.
Acting Judge Piet Ebersohn ordered the minister of police and Captain Edwards Sello Sekelele to pay R344 162 damages to Louw Erasmus van der Laarse, 34, a former export manager at a customs clearing company at the Beit Bridge border post.
He said the court could only hope the matter received attention from some senior officer and that Sekelele's conduct was not left unpunished.
“He is particularly unsuited to be an officer and to be in charge anywhere,” Ebersohn said.
Van der Laarse instituted a damages claim against the police after Sekelele arrested him at the border post for the alleged unlawful possession of unlicensed firearms in May 2010.
Van der Laarse was asked to help a client who had brought eight firearms, four of them registered in South Africa, from Zimbabwe to South Africa in his car with clearance procedures.
It was eventually agreed that the four weapons should be sent back to Zimbabwe. While waiting with the client's car for customs officials to come and do the necessary checks, and after enquiring why they were taking so long, Van der Laarse was arrested.
Sekelele refused to listen to any explanation and refused to see the documentation for the clients' weapons and the car.
Van der Laarse was taken to the Beit Bridge police station in the client's car. He was escorted by another police vehicle with its blue light flashing from Beit Bridge to the Musina police station as if he was a dangerous criminal.
He was forced to sit on the floor under the counter at the Musina police station. He was never questioned and was taken to a holding cell in a 6m x 2m shipping container.
He was detained in the container with about 24 Zimbabweans who took what remained of his belongings.
The prisoners had to lie head to toe and when it was time to turn the head-prisoner would shout that everybody should turn. The container smelled of urine and sweat and ticks and fleas bit Van der Laarse all over his body.
His lawyer told the court the container was “as hot as hell” and prisoners “were basically cooking”.
When Van der Laarse was taken out of the container for questioning he broke down and cried uncontrollably. He begged not to be put back in the container, but was put back, where he was unable to sleep for three nights before he was taken to court and granted bail.
He developed severe depression and still suffered from sleeping disorders. He resigned from his job and found another one because he wanted to work in a better environment.
The charges against Van der Laarse were withdrawn, but he had to spend over R60 000 in legal costs.
Ebersohn said Van der Laarse had been treated cruelly and kept under horrifying circumstances from the moment of his arrest.
“He was arrested by Sekelele who acted as if he was power drunk and in a disgraceful display to all those who beheld what was going on,” Ebersohn said.
In a similar case, tradesman Clifford Victor Cope was awarded R220 000 damages in February after he was unlawfully arrested at the Beit Bridge border post and held captive in a shipping container with 26 other men for six days.