Pretoria -

In yet another case of police incompetence, the taxpayer will fork out more than R200 000 because the minister of police has been ordered to pay damages to a Limpopo man for detaining him for about 20 days without first establishing whether he was the correct murder suspect.

Fence Mashifane, of Marble Hall, told the Pretoria High Court he was leaving a tavern in the early hours of November 7, 2010, with friends, when someone told them a man was lying in the road.

They found the man, and Mashifane saw it was his neighbour. The man was dead and Mashifane alerted his son, another family member and police. Mashifane remained on the scene until they arrived. He heard someone telling the police who had murdered the victim.

Police arrived at his home two weeks later, to take a statement. He told them he and his friend, Morris Diale, discovered the body. A week later police phoned him and told him if he and Diale did not assist in the murder investigation, they would be arrested.

The pair met police at a fast food outlet in town, where they were arrested without any explanation. Mashifane said they were put on the back of an open police van, cuffed to the vehicle’s sides. Police drove with them through the streets and even stopped at a supermarket to buy food. It was extremely traumatic, as several people they knew well, saw them, he said. The SAPS then drove to Mashifane’s place of work and told the security guards he had been arrested.

Back at the Marble Hall police station he was severely tortured, he said. His hands were cuffed and put over his bent knees. A plank was placed between the backs of his knees and the insides of his elbows. He was lifted up in this position and placed between two tables. He was pushed, and the swinging caused him a lot of pain.

Police told him to tell the truth about the murder. He was left swinging for a long time, while police officers left the room.

Mashifane said he cried loudly because of the pain. A constable eventually freed him and told the others to stop the torture. Mashifane showed the marks to the court during his evidence.

He stayed in a police cell for nearly 20 days which was torture in itself as the conditions were bad and he was “ill-treated” by the other inmates. He admitted he never reported the torture, nor did he lay a charge of assault against the officers involved.

Mashifane said the most painful aspect of his ordeal was to face a charge of murder for a crime he did not commit.

The police denied any wrongdoing and said they had reason to arrest him as a witness claimed Mashifane was the killer. They also denied assaulting him.

It emerged that witness had made two contradicting statements. Twenty days later, after several court appearances, the case was withdrawn as police found they had the wrong suspect.

Judge DS Molefe said the police failed to analyse the evidence and check the quality of their information before making the arrest. The SAPS should have questioned their witness about his contradicting statements, and not simply relied on the one incriminating Mashifane, he said.

Police should have listened to his explanation. They were guilty of dereliction of duty - their suspicion that Mashifane was guilty of murder was not based on reasonable grounds, he said.

Regarding the torture, the judge said police denied this and although Mashifane showed his torture marks to the court, he never asked for medical assistance nor complained to anyone while in custody.

The R200 000, said the judge, was ample compensation as Mashifane had lost his job as a farmworker because of his incarceration. It was also compensation for being deprived of his liberty and for his mental anguish in custody.

The Pretoria News reports on similar cases against the ministry weekly. Senior Institute for Security Studies researcher Johan Burger said it was time offending officers were held personally accountable. Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa announced in 2012 that offending SAPS members would be held personally liable if wrongdoing could be proved. It is not clear whether this has been done. Burger is not aware of any such instance. - Pretoria News