Two traditional healers from Seshego, Limpopo, say they were arrested, detained and severely tortured by police who accused them of having a woman killed so that they could use her body parts for muti.
Maselaelo Phasha and Bernado Bila told the Pretoria High Court that the police kept on asking them where the body parts were.
They told the police they knew nothing about body parts, but they were subjected to inhumane treatment and long-term torturing until they passed out at times, they said.
The pair were held in custody for nearly a year after bail was initially refused.
The Director of Public Prosecutions eventually withdrew charges.
They partially succeeded in their claim against the police, as Judge MJ Teffo found that the police had unlawfully arrested and detained them.
She, however, rejected the pair’s claims that they were tortured.
Phasha is claiming R1.3 million following her ordeal and Bila R2 million.
The amount of damages due to them will be determined at a later stage.
The pair’s arrest was sparked by the killing of a woman on October 15, 2006, after her shack was set alight. When the police arrived, they found the body had already been removed and the shack cleaned up.
The police later received information that Phasha’s son, Aubrey, was implicated in the murder and that he had fatally stabbed the victim.
According to the information, Aubrey had told someone that his mother was looking for body parts and that he thus, after killing the woman, cut out her parts.
It was said that he had given them to his mother to use for muti. She, the police said, gave him R200 for the parts.
Armed with these allegations the police arrested the two traditional healers.
Phasha told the court that the police kept on asking her about the body parts, but she had no idea what they were talking about.
She said she had been tied up with “chains” and suffocated with a tyre tube several times.
“They called me a witch and a killer… They also forced me to eat some of my medicine so that they could see whether it healed or killed,” she told the court.
The police could not find any body parts in the hut, but the community pelted her with stones.
Phasha said the police also tortured her son Aubrey, but he too did not know anything about body parts.
Bila claimed he suffered the same fate. He said he did not know Phasha well, but they sometimes met as they both worked as traditional healers and he had sold herbs to her.
Judge Teffo accused the police of not properly analysing the information at their disposal at the time of the woman’s death in the burnt shack. They simply reacted on unsubstantiated information and arrested the pair.
The judge, however, did not believe they had suffered the injuries they claimed.