Former TUT student loses claim after court finds cops acted reasonably at protest
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Pretoria - A former Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) student who was injured more than 12 years ago when the police fired rubber bullets to try to disperse rioting students has lost her bid to recover damages.
The court ruled that the SAPS members who fired the shots on the main campus of the university acted reasonably under the circumstances.
Katlego Ramatlo said she was merely a bystander and not one of the protesters when the police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at the crowd in 2008.
She obtained the services of lawyers Maditsi Mphela and Tshepo Matlala at the time to institute a damages claim against the police. However, they failed to institute her claim as per her mandate to them and as a result she claimed the damages directly from them.
The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, earlier ruled that the lawyers were liable for her damages and they should pay her whatever amount she could prove she had suffered. The lawyers, however, appealed that ruling on the basis that Ramatlo would have never succeeded in her claim against the police in the first place, thus they are not liable to compensate her.
A full bench - three judges - who heard the appeal, agreed that the police acted reasonably when they tried to protect the public from the protesting students and they tried to prevent further damage to the buildings.
Acting Judge Brad Wanless, who wrote the judgment, said the 50 or so police at the scene were far outnumbered by the about 500 protesters and needed to take action.
The police were called to the campus in February 2008 as the students were damaging the building. They went to the administration building where the Students Representative Council and management were meeting. The building was surrounded by angry students.
The SAPS said the students pelted them with stones and they noticed the windows of the administrative building had already been damaged. The protesters tried to gain entry into the building, but campus security, assisted by the police, tried to keep them at bay.
A stun grenade was used to disperse the crowd, followed by rubber bullets fired by the police.
Judge Wanless said it was clear the crowd was causing serious damage to university property and was intent on injuring the police by pelting them with stones. He said the police were justified in taking reasonable measures to protect university property and themselves.
The judge said the police were obliged to protect the campus security guards and the public who were inside the administration building at the time. “The steps taken by the police to attempt to disperse the crowd were the only steps available.”
The means used by police to restore order was not excessive. He upheld the appeal by the two attorneys and said they cannot be held liable for damages as even if they had followed Matlala’s instructions to sue the police, they would not have succeeded.