When the very people who ought to uphold the Constitution promote personal interest above the rights of others and perpetrate acts that violate it, the country is operating on extremely dangerous turf and places it and hard-earned freedoms at risk.
This is according to the Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, which ordered the minister of police, in his official capacity, to pay R30,000 in damages to each of the 11 claimants who were arrested for no reason following a peaceful picket outside a police station.
The 11 were detained for two nights in holding cells before charges were dropped against them.
Wandile Yani and his 10 co-claimants turned to the court for compensation following their harrowing ordeal. Each of them initially claimed R1 million in damages.
In finding that the SA Police Service conduct was unlawful, Acting Judge B Ford said: “A person who abuses the authority imbued on him by virtue of a constitutional designation is a disgrace.”
The judge added that State institutions are our Constitution’s primary agents.
“The men and women who occupy roles of authority in our institutions yield significant amounts of power and influence and have a noble duty to promote and protect the rights of citizens enshrined in our Constitution.”
Judge Ford said police officers are, especially when uniformed, the visible face of our protection services and often the first port of call for anyone seeking protection of rights under our Constitution.
The judge said a person who abuses the authority imbued on him or her by virtue of a constitutional designation is a disgrace.
“The willy-nilly, baseless and often soul-destroying conduct of arrests, when there is no probable cause, cannot be allowed to continue unfettered and drastic steps need to be taken to avoid this disgraceful state of affairs.”
The claimants were successful in their application for default judgment after the State Attorney, acting on behalf of the police, entered an appearance to defend in September last year. But the attorney never took the matter any further and did not state what the defence, in fact, was.
The plaintiffs told the court that they participated in a peaceful and legal protest action in August 2019 at the Norwood Police Station.
The protest was to condemn the violent and brutal conduct of the SAPS in suppressing a protest by the Norwood community earlier that day.
Without provocation on the side of the protesters, the police arrested the 11 and detained them for two nights and three days.
They were then taken to the Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court.
The State prosecutor declined to prosecute them, and they were told to go home.
The plaintiffs testified that they did not break any laws, and their constitutional rights were violated for the ostensible motive of quashing their and their community’s right to protest.
They asked that the police be held accountable for their actions.
It was argued on their behalf that the damages they are asking for are not just meant to console the consequences of the abuse they suffered at the hands of the SAPS.
The court was told that it must serve as a message to law enforcement officials and organisations of the high standards that is expected of our policemen and women, and that severe retribution will be meted out to governmental entities that stray from their duty and mission.
Judge Ford said there could be no doubt their arrest was not only unlawful but it was humiliating and baseless.
“The plaintiffs had their freedom and security of person deprived in a most objectionable manner and suffered damages as a result,” the judge said.
He found that the SAPS had acted with malice and that their conduct was harsh and unnecessary.