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Durban - He was a normal 16-year-old, just like any other, his mother said on Monday. But the prominent scar on her forehead – the result of his attacking her with a bottle – now says it all.
“He is violent, he runs around naked and has been in and out of hospital,” the weeping woman testified.
She and lawyers from the Centre for Child Law say his changed behaviour is a result of being raped four years ago, at the age of 16, when he was unlawfully detained with hardened criminals in the hospital section of Westville Prison.
His crime was stealing a pair of shorts, valued at R49.99, from Woolworths.
“He did not need to be detained… He was not a threat to society,” advocate Peter Rowan argued before Judge Fikile Mokgohloa in the Durban High Court on Monday.
He said although there was DNA evidence linking the alleged rapist to the crime, he had never been prosecuted because the teenager was in no mental state to give evidence.
In his opening address in the civil matter in which he is seeking an order holding the State responsible for what happened to the teenager the advocate said many facts in the matter were not in dispute, including his age, the periods of detention, the fact that he had been assessed by Nicro and diversion (out of the criminal justice system) had been recommended, and that ultimately he had pleaded guilty to theft and had been cautioned and discharged.
However, while the State admits that he was detained with adult prisoners in the hospital section, it denies that he was raped, saying an injury he sustained was also consistent with “blunt force trauma”.
Rowan said a case would be made that his detention was unnecessary and that his detention in a cell with adult prisoners “was indisputably unlawful” in terms of the constitution.
The mother said she received a telephone call in March 2008 to say her son had been arrested for shoplifting.
He appeared in court three days later and that same day they went to Nicro. When his next court appearance came up, she instructed him to shave his head so that he looked “proper”. But the power went out and he only managed to shave half of his head. It was because of this – and his fear of his mother’s threats that she would have him rearrested – that he did not attend court.
“He refused, so I went on my own. I told the court why he was not there and that he had completed the Nicro programme. But the magistrate issued a warrant for his arrest,” she said.
The day after his arrest, the mother said, she went court but was told he had been taken to Westville Prison. She went there but could not find him.
“I kept going back. And on one occasion I was told that my child had been raped.”
When she reported this to court staff at his next appearance, she was told “that is allowed in prison… it is commonplace”.
Dr Raksha Ramjiawan, the doctor at Addington Hospital who examined the teenager after the alleged assault, said his injuries were consistent with those of “genital penetration” and sodomy and it was the “most likely” cause.
However, she conceded under cross-examination by advocate Mark Oliff that it could also be consistent with “blunt force trauma”.
The case continues.