Cape Town - Blind busker Lunga Goodman Nono, who was forcibly removed from his spot in St George’s Mall a year ago by the City of Cape Town’s law enforcement officials, has been awarded R300 000 in damages.
Magistrate Mas-Udah Pangarker of the Cape Town Regional Court said the officials had failed to uphold the law and had violated Nono’s constitutional rights.
There was also “excessive” use of force, as well as verbal and physical abuse.
A delighted Nono said on Thursday that a nice dinner “somewhere fancy” was the first thing he would do to treat his family after winning a 13-month court battle against the city. He would also spend the money on improvements to his one-roomed shack in Delft.
Karusha Iyer of Kirsten Attorneys said the judge awarded the maximum damages amount, and ordered the city to pay all legal costs.
This judgment was a significant victory for Nono, as courts seldom granted the maximum amount in a general damages claim.
“She agreed that Nono had suffered and that there was definitely a violation of his constitutional rights. He was definitely defamed.”
Nono, who was born blind, was manhandled during a scuffle with law enforcement officials in July last year. The busker’s guitar was broken in the fracas.
He has been playing on the corner of St George’s Mall and Shortmarket Street near Greenmarket Square since 2008. But following a noise complaint from a nearby business, he was forcibly removed from his spot by city officials.
Video and photographic footage showed how Nono was dragged on the ground while his wife, Abigail, and 10-year-old daughter, Portia, watched in horror.
The city contended that Nono had contravened a by-law, but it later emerged that the municipality did not have a clear by-law on busking. Amendments have since been made to the Informal Trading and Street Performances by-law.
Nono initially faced a fine of R1 500 for disobeying an instruction from a city law enforcement official, but these charges were later dropped.
Meanwhile, the three law enforcement officers implicated in the incident were issued with final warnings valid for six months and sent for sensitivity training on how to handle people with disabilities.
JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, said yesterday: “The city will study the judgment and consider our options. At this stage we cannot comment further without prejudicing any future possible proceedings.” The city never appeared in court to defend the claim, said Iyer.
But in her ruling, the judge reportedly placed on record her disappointment that the three law enforcement officers involved in the incident were only suspended for six months.
“This was just a slap on the wrist,” said Iyer.
It was suggested that the officers should have apologised to Nono for the way he was mistreated.
However, the judge did not support Nono’s claim of unlawful arrest, as she said he was never incarcerated in a holding cell.
As the matter involved a general damages claim, the magistrate asked Nono and his wife to testify in court and the couple took the stand on August 25.
It emerged during testimony, and is also recorded in court documents submitted by Nono, that he now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He experiences nightmares and must now undergo regular psychological treatment.
Iyer said her client was too scared now to play more than a few times a week in case he was assaulted again.
“He’s lost the jovial nature he had. Those officials have taken the passion out of him.”
But speaking to the Cape Argus from his busking corner on Thursday, Nono and Abigail couldn’t stop smiling after receiving the good news from their lawyer around noon.
“We have been in and out of court for months. I am very happy we have finally won,” said Nono.
Besides the family dinner, Nono plans to spend the money renovating his one-roomed shack in Delft, on Portia’s education and also on recording a “hot album”.
Abigail said her husband had not been the same after the incident and there were days when he did not even want to wake up for work because he was still traumatised by what happened.
The ACDP has meanwhile indicated that it will call for the disciplinary case against the officers to be reopened so that stricter sanction could be considered. It would also motivate for the officers to apologise to Nono, said the party’s Grant Haskin.