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Johannesburg - Experienced police officers who were found to have illegally entered and searched a man’s home at midnight and tortured him there should have understood what the constitution meant, said a judge.
Last week, the Port Elizabeth High Court awarded Thobela Julius Funde R110 000 in damages for invasion of privacy and assault, arising from a police raid on his home in Kwadwesi, Port Elizabeth, five years ago. The officers who led the raid were named as Captain Sakhele Matomane and a Warrant Officer Sitinga. They had been police officers for 21 years and 20 years respectively.
They claimed they were searching for dagga after a tip-off, but the court found that Funde’s version was more reliable and ordered the minister of police to pay Funde the “modest” R110 000 in damages.
Judge Judith Roberson said it was a serious invasion of privacy and called the assault severe.
Funde’s wife and child were sent to another room in the house, and Funde was handcuffed and made to lie on the floor.
“Matomane produced a plastic glove and put it over the plaintiff’s (Funde’s) head, with the result that he could not breathe. He lost consciousness and the glove was taken off and he was revived with water,” said Judge Roberson.
“The process was repeated, and endured for half an hour to an hour. He thought he was going to die.
“He was also pressed down on his shoulders, causing the handcuffs to tighten, and thereby causing pain to his wrists.
“He felt humiliated at being subjected to this treatment in the presence of his family.”
The judge said the assault must have been terrifying. “He was at the mercy of two police officers.
“He was rendered helpless and impotent in his own home, while his wife and child were present, albeit in another room. The ordeal endured for some time. Matomane and Sitinga were unrepentant.”
The judge ordered that a copy of the judgment be sent to the minister of police and the SAPS national commissioner.
“Matomane and Sitinga were police officers prior to the enactment of the interim constitution, followed by the constitution.
“One would think that they would have comprehended the enormous shift which took place in relation to the protection of fundamental rights,” said Judge Roberson.
“I commented that they were unruffled during cross-examination. The glib manner in which they stood their ground tells me that they do not have a problem with the notion of torture.
“They are senior police officers. What sort of message do they send to their juniors? What effect does their conduct and that of police officers who commit similar abuses have on the morale of the police force?”
Funde was taken to the Kwadwesi police station and held over the long weekend until the following Tuesday, and reported the assault at the station.
He was charged with possession of or dealing in dagga, but the case disintegrated when the police failed to turn up in court.
The judge said there was “nothing inherently improbable” in Funde’s evidence.
He assumed the police had received some sort of information that led them to Funde, so they did not randomly choose his house.