File picture: Andrew Kelly/Reuters
File picture: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Top official sues for R7.5m after being injured during Nehawu protest at Mpumalanga premier’s office

By Loyiso Sidimba Time of article published Mar 5, 2021

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Johannesburg – The Mpumalanga High Court will determine whether a former senior official in erstwhile premier David Mabuza’s office is entitled to the R7.5 million in damages she is claiming after being injured during a union protest.

Catherine Churchill, chief director responsible for policy and research until June 2017 in Deputy President Mabuza’s office during his tenure as Mpumalanga premier, was injured in April that year at a protest by members of Cosatu’s biggest affiliate, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu).

Mabuza was the province’s premier until February 2018.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) overturned Mpumalanga High Court Acting Judge Henk Roelofse’s May 2019 judgment upholding the Office of the Premier’s special plea that the court had no jurisdiction as Churchill’s claim constituted an occupational injury for which she was entitled to compensation in terms of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act.

The premier’s office denied being vicariously liable for the behaviour of the protesters, who were unhappy over labour-related issues.

Acting Judge Roelofse agreed with the premier’s office but granted Churchill leave to appeal his ruling at the SCA.

Churchill suffered physical injuries (bruises, scratches and a swollen foot), was shocked and humiliated.

She also suffered psychiatric injury that left her with intense post-traumatic stress disorder, and on her attempts to return to work, she found the situation intolerable and was forced to resign in June 2017.

Churchill then launched a R7.5m claim for past and future medical treatment, general damages, past and future loss of income, compensation for loss of income up to her date of retirement due to her stating that she will be unable to work again.

In a unanimous judgment, SCA Judge Malcolm Wallis replaced the high court’s ruling with one dismissing the premier’s office’s special plea and declared that it was liable to compensate Churchill for such damages as may be agreed or proved arising out of the injuries she suffered during the Nehawu protest.

”The matter is remitted to the high court for the determination of the nature and extent of any and all such injuries and the quantum of damages to which she is entitled in consequence thereof,” said the SCA judgment.

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