Pretoria - A man’s decision to wear his blue shoes when he applied for a job cost him four days in jail after he was identified by his shoes as a robber.
When Thusi Vukani put his blue shoes on, on the morning of February 4 2016, and headed to the job he hoped he would get at a store, he had no idea that a robber, also wearing blue shoes, would rob someone of a cellphone and some cash near the spot where he was passing.
As it turned out, security officers who had been alerted to the robbery simply saw his shoes and grabbed him from behind. He was taken to a police station, where he remained in custody, under harrowing circumstances, for four days.
After his stint in the cells, he was taken to court and simply told to go home. Nothing ever came of the charge against him.
Aggrieved about what he had to endure, Vukani turned to the Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, where he claimed R600,000 for unlawful arrest and R150,000 for his hurt feelings, after he was simply pulled off the street in sight of everyone there.
Vukani testified that on the morning of the incident he was on his way to a store in the city, where he was hoping to apply for a position he had seen advertised.
He had his curriculum vitae and was going in the direction of the city centre via Wolmarans Street, Johannesburg, when two persons from the security company Bad Boys grabbed him and bundled him off to their offices nearby.
They accused him of being involved in a robbery. The security persons kept him at their offices for about 45 minutes. A person unknown to him was in their offices and he complained that the plaintiff had robbed him of his cellphone and R300. The victim identified his attacker by his blue shoes.
Vukani denied any knowledge of the robbery, and his evidence is that at the time he did not own a cellphone and had only R150 on him. An hour into being detained the two persons took him to the Hillbrow police station where they told the officer on duty he was guilty of common robbery.
The police officer booked him in, he was not told anything further. He was kept in the cells from Thursday until Monday. Vukani said he was arrested without a warrant and there was no evidence of any offence.
He said that during his stay, he was told by the police on duty that he could arrange for his release if he paid R5,000. He did not have the money and called his sister for assistance. She sent him R3,000, which he paid over to the police, but he remained in custody.
Vukani said he was put into the cells at about noon, and his first meal was hours later. He battled to eat some of the meals, in that he did not eat fish and it was the only meal served.
He also complained that the toilets were dirty and open for all to view. The blankets he was given were dirty and smelly. During his stay the cells filled up as more people were incarcerated. A fight broke out among the inmates and he was attacked in the chaos.
The court noted that Vukani was not arrested by a peace officer as is provided for in law, and that the police simply relied on the “say so” of security guards before they detained him for four days. No items were found on him which linked him to the robbery.
In finding that the arrest and detention was unlawful, the court said: “Such arbitrary acts by the police only serve to build distrust and erode the confidence of the public in those entrusted to keep the peace and ensure public security and safety.”
In ordering the police to pay Vukani R150,000 in damages, the court commented that he was on his way to seek employment, no doubt filled with a sense of hope, particularly in these very difficult economic times.
“He was wearing blue shoes, which caused him trouble, and led to his detention in prison for four days. No reasonable person could ever have anticipated such a fate,” the court said.