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The ordeal of spending about six days in police cells and in Diepkloof Prison (also known as Sun City Prison), where they had to witness prisoners having sex right next to them, caused two friends to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Jaco Venter and Gert van Vreeden each claimed more than R500 000 damages in the Pretoria High Court from the minister of police following their harrowing time behind bars.
The court ruled on Tuesday that each should receive R120 000 damages.
They were arrested first on a charge of car theft and later for being in possession of illegal diamonds. The charges were eventually withdrawn for lack of evidence.
The friends, who lived in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, at the time, were arrested on November 12, 200, on a charge of car theft. They were first detained at the Booysens police station in Joburg and later transferred to the John Vorster holding cells. This was without being taken to court within 48 hours of their arrest, for a possible bail hearing.
Three days later, they were told they were also being charged for being in possession of illegal diamonds. The two stated that they had no idea how these charges arose.
They were taken to the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court four days after their arrest for a formal bail hearing. Bail was denied as the police said they were still trying to confirm the two’s residential addresses.
The two were taken to the Diepkloof Prison until bail was granted two days later. They appeared in court two months later and charges against them were withdrawn.
They stated that their arrest and detention was unlawful. The two also complained about the conditions under which they were held.
They said they were given little food and water, and the cells were dirty and unhygienic. They were also infested with lice and fleas, and they were not provided with proper sleeping facilities. To make matters worse, they were kept with dangerous offenders in the prison and they feared for their lives.
The police gave the court a blanket denial of all the allegations.
According to a psychologist’s report on Venter, his ordeal was extremely traumatic, especially the fact that he felt completely helpless all the time.
He also lost his business when he was released, as people did not want to be associated with him as he had been in jail. His company eventually had to be liquidated.
He still experienced problems with his family who had had to bribe officials to obtain information about him. Van Vreeden also told a psychologist that his family had had to pay money to see him in jail, which was referred to as “toll fees” by the other inmates.
Other traumatic events while in jail included that they had to sit on their haunches while being counted by the officials and they feared repercussions if they did not hear their names being called and did not respond in time.
They also said they were placed in “steel cages” along with 80 inmates. They also had to watch inmates having sex “next to them and right in the open”. They told the psychologist nobody did anything about this. They also had to witness inmates using drugs.