Police, NPA must pay R1.7m to ’scarred for life’ teacher unlawfully detained in connection with pupil's rape
Share this article:
Johannesburg - Police Minister Bheki Cele and National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi have been ordered to pay a Durban teacher falsely accused of raping a minor almost R1.7 million in damages.
The father of three minor children has been awarded the damages for his unlawful detention between November 2011 and December 2012 after he handed himself over to the police for raping a nine-year-old learner at the school where he was a teacher.
The man handed himself over to the police following the alleged victim’s family confronting him at the school in front of his bosses and colleagues.
Due to the seriousness of the charges against him, a formal bail application was held and he was refused bail after it was found that he was unable to show exceptional circumstances justifying his release.
He remained incarcerated until he was eventually acquitted at the conclusion of his criminal trial in December 2012.
Following his acquittal, he launched his damages claim at the Durban High Court, stating that even though he was eventually acquitted on all charges, community members still recall the allegations against him as well as that the stigma of having been arrested and tried for the rape of a minor remains a permanent stain on his character.
His lawyer Viren Singh initially argued that having regard to the circumstances relating to his client’s detention for 388 days an amount of R3.5m would be fair and reasonable as compensation.
He later amended his particulars of claim and demanded R5m in compensation.
However, Nomusa Khuzwayo SC, representing Cele and Batohi, submitted that an amount between R1.2m and R1.4m would be reasonable.
On Monday, Durban High Court Judge Mahendra Chetty directed Cele and Batohi to pay damages of R1 668 592 for his unlawful detention.
The amount is made up of R1.6m in general damages, R8 592 in past loss of income as well as R60 000 in special damages for legal fees and the cost of transcripts.
”In light of the length of the plaintiff’s (Buthelezi’s) incarceration, his status as a qualified educator, the exposure that was given to his arrest and conviction and the humiliation suffered by him, all of which are not disputed by the defendants (Cele and Batohi), I am of the view that an award of R1.6m for general damages constitutes fair and reasonable compensation of the ordeal suffered by the plaintiff,” Judge Chetty found.
He also ordered Cele and Batohi to pay interest in the prescribed rate within 14 days and the teacher’s costs including the compilation of the expert reports of a specialist psychologist and an actuary.
The former member of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union before he spent more than a year at the Westville Prison in Durban returned to his teaching career and was promoted to a primary school deputy principal after his release.
”One can only speculate whether he would have assumed this higher position earlier had it not been for his unlawful detention,” said Judge Chetty.
According to the judgment, after his release, he has been involved in community affairs and has been appointed treasurer of an educare centre.
The teacher has also indicated that he bears no ill feelings towards the complainant and has forgiven her for the allegations levelled against him.
Detailing his ordeal at the Westville Prison in court, he said that as a new inmate he was forced to ‘buy’ his safety from abuse by supplying other senior prisoners with cigarettes and airtime.
He was also forced to pay R600 to receive a clean bed, bedsheets and a sponge to wash himself and paid for the rental of a TV for the benefit of all the inmates in his cell.
The teacher also witnessed stabbings and sexual assaults of other inmates.
He told the court that one of the effects that his incarceration had on his personal life was that he was constantly afraid of being sexually violated and contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
A report by a clinical psychologist handed to the court came to the conclusion that while in jail he experienced feelings of fear, horror and shame and had his life threatened after his release.
Even after his acquittal, he continued to have flashbacks of events that occurred during his detention, leading to him becoming hyper-vigilant and developing sleep disturbances.
The clinical psychologist also established that he should have been diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
He was diagnosed as suffering from depression and admitted to a hospital for ten days for treatment.
Following his release, he barely slept, repeatedly cried and had recurring flashbacks of the prison’s unsanitary conditions as well as the assaults on fellow inmates.
Singh has described his client as being “scarred for life”.