Pretoria - The taxpayer will have to fork out more than R2.4 million after a man was left blind in his one eye after the police shot him for no reason.
The High Court sitting in Bloemfontein ordered that the minister of police had to pay Thabiso Rapudungwane this amount for unlawfully shooting him and for his unlawful detention in a police cell for about 15 hours.
Rapudungwane initially claimed R5.5m in damages, as well as for the medical costs he had to incur. He had to undergo surgery on his eye and he is now totally blind in that eye.
Although nothing ever came of the charges against him, the police claimed he was arrested for committing the offence of public violence.
With regard to the shooting, the police have pleaded a bare denial of the allegations.
Rapudungwane testified that it was shortly after 5pm on a day in December 2017 when seven police officers travelling in a minibus arrived at the tavern where he and about 100 other patrons were playing dice and a game of ludo.
As soon as the police approached the tavern, some of the patrons ran away; those who remained were bodily searched. The police were walking back to their minibus when one patron, a man called Mokoena, jokingly remarked that he was happy to see the police actually working.
This remark infuriated the police, who assaulted Mokoena and left him on the ground bleeding.
Rapudungwane followed the police to their minibus demanding an explanation why they left Mokoena behind when he was clearly in pain.
He said one of the officers meanwhile alighted from the minibus holding a “long gun”. The officer then shot him in the left eye. When he realised he was bleeding he confronted the officer, but the officer grabbed him and threw him inside the minibus.
Rapudungwane said he was seated on the floor of the minibus bleeding and the police accused him of having started the trouble. He heard a sound of stones thrown at the minibus, prompting the police to drive off to the police station without telling him the reason for his arrest. The assault on him continued, he said, and he was detained in a cell despite the fact that he was bleeding and in extreme pain.
His request for medical attention was ignored and he was only taken to hospital the next day by ambulance.
Rapudungwane cried when he explained that as a result of the injury, he is no longer able to drive due to the loss of vision. As a labour relations officer, his responsibilities require him to travel extensively.
He also told the court he is permanently disfigured and wears spectacles to conceal the defective eye. His self-esteem has been affected.
The version of the police was they went to the tavern to search for a suspect in a rape case. They claimed the crowd became rowdy when the police reprimanded them for gambling.
Judge NS Daniso commented that it was aggravating that the cause of the plaintiff’s pain and disfigurement was the police. “They are expected to uphold the law and protect citizens.”