Pretoria - While police brutality on citizens who insist on their innocence after they were accused of wrongdoing is prevalent, this situation only depletes the state’s already stretched coffers. The time has arrived for the Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) to deal with these officers.
This is according to a judge who awarded damages to two young men who were severely assaulted by the SAPS – simply because they would not admit to have done something wrong.
The North West Division of the High Court, sitting in Mahikeng, awarded R526 000 to Lebaka Xaba, who told the court that he was beaten “to a pulp”. He suffered such severe injuries that he can no longer hear properly, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
His friend Lebese Lethokoe was also beaten, but not as severely as Xaba. Lethokoe is due to receive R140 000 in damages. The bulk of Xaba’s compensation is towards his medical care.
The police did not deny any wrongdoing and accepted liability for damages. The money will, however, come from the taxpayer.
Xaba was 18 when the incident occurred in 2022, and his friend was 22. They were travelling home late one night from a friend’s birthday party when they were followed by a police vehicle in Itsoseng Township.
Upon being stopped, they were instructed to get out of the vehicle and lie on the ground. The police officers then violently searched them and their friends who were in the car. They were all kicked and manhandled.
The officers asked them to produce a girl they alleged had been kidnapped and to hand over a firearm they alleged the plaintiffs had stolen.
Unhappy with their response, the SAPS arrested the two and escorted them into the police van, which took them to the Itsoseng police station, where they were detained and assaulted.
They were released the next day without any explanation.
Xaba testified that, as a result of his injuries, he had lost hearing in one of his ears. According to a specialist’s report, his right ear suffered profound mixed hearing loss, and it was recommended that he receive a hearing aid.
A clinical psychologist’s report indicated that the two men also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, along with moderate anxiety and mild depression, which were attributable to the incident.
The court commented that the physical injuries suffered by the plaintiffs also came with emotional or psychological damage to both.
“As one would imagine, although their injuries healed, they remain emotionally and psychologically scarred for life for the traumatic experience they endured in the short period in which they were incarcerated and detained,” Acting Judge Mark Morgan said.
Xaba testified that he was assaulted the most because he was more vocal than the others in questioning the police officers on their authority to arrest and detain them. He further testified that, at the police station, he was dragged by his feet into a room where he was slapped and beaten to a pulp with belts, until a female police officer stepped in and told her colleagues to stop assaulting him.
“The present situation exemplifies a paradigmatic instance of alleged police misconduct against individuals asserting their innocence. A substantial body of evidence demonstrates that recurrent occurrences of this nature have led to a diminished threshold for tolerating such incidents within our societal framework,” Judge Morgan said.
“When our judicial system confines its response primarily to pecuniary compensation in the aftermath of such instances of alleged brutality, without adopting more comprehensive measures to mitigate this phenomenon, it is my considered perspective that this course of action inadvertently compounds the prevailing lack of faith that segments of our populace harbour towards our law enforcement institutions.”
He added that it was incumbent upon law enforcement officers who had sworn to uphold the Constitution to ensure the well-being of the country’s citizens. If they did not, Ipid should step in and investigate these matters.
“The failure to undertake meaningful action in response to instances of alleged police misconduct inadvertently fosters an environment wherein tacit endorsement may be perceived, potentially prompting members of the community, either individually or collectively, to usurp the role of law enforcement in addressing such grievance. This course of action is pivotal to restoring the confidence of the citizenry in this indispensable constitutional institution responsible for law enforcement.”
Judge Morgan added that, “regrettably, a perceptible pattern has emerged” wherein the general populace has progressively relinquished their reliance on the efficacy of the police in addressing criminal incidents.
He noted that police brutality had also been berated by our courts. Most court rolls were clogged up with these type of matters.
“Something needs to be done, as it does not only prejudice the parties affected but also courts and other litigants. These matters eat into the limited resources allocated to courts,” Judge Morgan said.
“Also concerning is that taxpayers have to bear the ever increasing fiscal brunt for the unscrupulous police officers’ incompetency and gross misconduct.”