Durban - Nine of the beds in the cell at the Westville prison hospital were occupied by sentenced, hardened criminals.
The 16-year-old in the 10th bed, who had fallen ill while detained at the prison’s youth centre on a pending charge of shoplifting a R49 pair of shorts from Woolworths, didn’t stand a chance.
With no supervision, a prisoner doing 15 years for murder accosted him in the bathroom and raped him while he begged and cried.
He was then put into isolation before being taken back to the youth centre and finally to Addington Hospital for a medical examination.
Now lawyers for the Centre for Child Law, assisted by Durban advocate Peter Rowan, have taken up his case and are suing the State for at least R1.5 million in a case which, they say, will throw the spotlight on the potential evils of detaining children accused of petty crimes.
The trial, which was supposed to begin in the Durban High Court on Wednesday, has already hit a snag with lawyers acting for the teenager – who cannot be named – claiming that the State is refusing to give them access to the crucial medical records at Addington Hospital and the police docket opened in the case.
“We have been fobbed off,” Rowan told Judge Rishi Seegobin, saying it was suspicious that the docket had “gone missing” and the hospital file had apparently been destroyed in a flood.
The history of the sorry saga is spelt out in the papers filed with the court.
It is alleged that the boy was arrested for shoplifting in March, 2008 – a charge for which he was ultimately cautioned and discharged – and detained in police cells at the Durban Central police station over a weekend until he appeared in court and was released into his mother’s custody.
She was ordered to take him to the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders (Nicro) for assessment for possible diversion out of the criminal justice system.
The magistrate warned her to appear in court again on April 3 with her son and to bring the diversion contract with her.
She went to court on that day with the contract but without her son. She explained his absence as being because he was embarrassed because the electricity had gone out while he had been shaving his head, leaving it half-shaved.
The magistrate issued a warrant for his arrest and he was arrested a week later. He appeared in court and was sent to Westville Prison’s Medium B, the prison for those convicted of serious crimes.
He says he was sodomised by the adult prisoner sometime in late April 2008. He was not given any medical attention or psychological therapy, and was detained in isolation.
Attorney Morgan Courtenay said his detention was neither necessary nor in the interests of justice.
“He was 16 and he could have been placed in the care of his parent or guardian. And it destroyed his life,” he said.
Soon after, he suffered a complete breakdown and was admitted to the psychiatric ward of Prince Mshiyeni Hospital.
Later, he was transferred to Town Hill Hospital for almost two months.
In 2009, he had to be admitted again, at King George hospital.
He never went back to school and doctors say his prognosis for recovery from psychological trauma is poor.
His mental health was so bad that he was unable to consult his lawyers, and he cannot testify at the trial.