Barend Johannes Pretorius, 57, had to spend several days in a filthy, faeces-infested cell while nobody cared to listen to his explanation that he knew nothing about the charges against him.
Employees at the garage reported that “a black woman, driving a green Land Rover” stole the petrol.
Pretorius drove a white Hilux bakkie at the time.
He testified that he was on a business trip to Mozambique in June 2010 when the incident occurred.
He left Mozambique in the early hours of June 18, 2010, wanting to surprise his family for Father's Day.
When they arrived at the South African side of the Komatipoort Border Post, he was asked by officials to confirm his vehicle's registration number, which he did. He was told that his vehicle showed a so-called “SAPS hit”. He was told to “own up to his wrongdoing.”
The officials had no idea what the “wrongdoing” entailed, but the police in Polokwane said they would fax through documentation to the border post with the charge and the warrant for arrest, which had already been issued in 2008.
The documentation never arrived at the border post, but one of the officials said the charge related to the theft of fuel amounting to R200 at a garage in Polokwane.
Pretorius was taken to the Malelane police station, where they waited for the documentation to arrive. Pretorius said that by then he knew the “writing was on the wall”, and that he was going to be locked up.
While walking to the cell, one of the officials told him with a grin on his face that he had to “sleep with his eyes open”. Pretorius said he was terrified as he did not know whether he was going to be assaulted, raped or murdered by his fellow inmates.
The cell was filthy and the stench unbearable. The walls were covered in faeces, and he was given a torn, stinking blanket.
Pretorius said he had to remain in this cell for several days as the document setting out the charges had not arrived.
After a few nights, he was severely traumatised. More inmates started to fill the cell and one of them was visibly ill and near death from full-blown Aids and TB.
Pretorius was taken to court the next day, where he was released on bail. The documents eventually arrived, and it showed when the fuel theft was committed. Pretorius, in turn, showed his credit card statement to the police, proving he was in Tzaneen having lunch with a client at the time.
This still did not assist Pretorius, who had to appear in court again. Eventually, the prosecutor told Pretorius to forget everything and go home.
Counsel for the police admitted that Pretorius should be compensated.