Pretoria - Holding a man for two years and eight months, with 37 court appearances for housebreaking and theft, only to have the charges against him withdrawn, will cost the taxpayer more than R3.3 million.
The High Court in Pietermaritzburg has ordered the police minister to pay the man damages. It found that police acted with malice and there was a strong indication that officers had fabricated evidence to ensure that Mdunyiswa Mtolo remained behind bars and his bail application was refused.
Any chance of him being released on bail was blocked when the magistrate was told he had another charge pending against him, which was not true.
Mtolo was arrested by the SAPS on September 12, 2011, on two counts of housebreaking with intent to steal and theft of saddles, and one count of theft of a vehicle.
He remained behind bars from the date of his arrest, having been denied bail. On June 24, 2013, the housebreaking charge was withdrawn. He remained in custody on the theft of motor vehicle charge until it, too, was withdrawn, on June 9, 2014.
He was mostly incarcerated at the New Prison in Pietermaritzburg.
The court also found that a police witness had lied and members of the SAPS involved in the case “conspired to fabricate evidence” against Mtolo which had formed the basis for his detention and prosecution.
“There can be no debate about the fact that the defendant’s (police minister’s) servants had instigated the prosecution of the plaintiff on both charges,” the court found.
It added that there was not an iota of independent and objective evidence against the plaintiff linking him to the charges.
Mtolo testified that he was arrested in the presence of his fellow employees and manhandled by the police.
He said the conditions under which he was initially kept were terrible. Blankets in the cell appeared to have been vomited on but not cleaned and there were blood splatters all over the cell. He saw the SAPS assaulting other detainees and lived in fear that he, too, would be assaulted.
Later, he was taken to Bizana in the Eastern Cape. He and two others were placed in the luggage area of a Toyota Fortuner for the lengthy journey.
Matters improved when he was taken to New Prison. However, on his arrival, he suffered the humiliation of being required to strip naked and jump around in front of prison officials and other inmates to establish whether he was in possession of any prohibited items concealed on or in his body.
He had to go through the ritual every time he returned from court suffering the indignity at least 37 times.
At New Prison he experienced overcrowding and poor food quality. He was initially placed in a 3.5m² cell, which he would be required to share with up to 10 other inmates. He described the cell as “the box”.
The box contained a steel bed but no mattress and had an exposed toilet. The toilet had to be used in full view of the other occupants of the cell.
He described the jail food as terrible, with breakfast being porridge with no sugar. The evening meal would comprise boiled and watery samp, or stiff phutu with cabbage or a little portion of curry.
To ensure his physical safety after he was robbed of some belongings, he had to pay a monthly fee of R500 plus 200 cigarettes and a bag of tobacco to a prison gang. Failure to do so could result in either a stabbing with a knife or an assault with a bunch of keys placed in a sock, he said.
At night, he heard the sounds of inmates being stabbed or raped. He did not suffer the same fate but, on occasion, other inmates suggestively touched his buttocks.
Judge Robin Mossop said that it must have been a shocking and unnerving experience for the plaintiff and it appeared that he had been failed by those who ought to have helped him.
The judge ruled that R3 367 200 was fair compensation.