Pretoria - A man who was arrested out of the blue on unsubstantiated accusations that he was a woman abuser has been awarded R350 000 in damages.
He had to spend 26 days in what he called filthy and flea-infested holding cells before he was cleared of any wrongdoing,
The Johannesburg High Court ordered the SAPS to pay the damages to Vincent Mathiso following his ordeal.
Asked by the court during his evidence how much damages he was claiming, Mathiso told the judge that “R100 000 was sufficient” so that he could take his children to school.
This is after his lawyers instituted a claim on his behalf for R950 000.
The court, however, decided that he was entitled to R350 000, especially given the fact that as a family man he had lost his job while in jail for no reason.
The court said it was obvious that in South Africa the prospects of getting a job get harder by the day, especially for those with few or no skills.
Mathiso turned to court to claim damages for unlawful arrest and detention by the SAPS following his arrest on April 21, 2017, at his home in Doornfontein, Johannesburg.
The SAPS simply noted a bare denial of all Mathiso’s allegations, but they did not call any witnesses to refute his allegations.
Mathiso, the only witness who testified, said that on his return from work, he found his stay-in girlfriend with a man he did not know. He proceeded with his usual routine of taking a shower after work.
He asked his girlfriend who the man was and she told him he was her brother. He said he was surprised as he had not seen the person before.
Mathiso tasked his daughter to prepare dinner, as he noticed that no food had been prepared.
According to him, his girlfriend, who questioned him as to why his daughter had brought him food, left the house. She returned about an hour and a half later in the company of the same man.
Mathiso said the man, who later turned out to be a police officer, out of the blue arrested him on a charge of abusing his girlfriend.
He said he was handcuffed, manhandled and pushed against the fence. He said the man never identified himself as a police officer at that point and was dressed in civilian clothes.
He was driven to Jeppe police station where he was processed and taken to a holding cell. At the police station, he was informed that the charge against him was for “assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm”.
Mathiso described the conditions in the holding cell as unhygienic and filthy. According to him, the toilet was not flushing and the cell was over-crowded, with about 15 other inmates. He said he slept on the floor and had only one blanket which was infested with lice.
He was provided with a small towel and soap to take a shower with cold water. Breakfast consisted of two slices of brown bread and black coffee. The routine was repeated until he was taken to court on the Monday.
His case was postponed for a week “for further investigation”.
He was then taken to the Johannesburg Correction Centre. He said there he had an unpleasant experience at the facility, where he was physically assaulted by the officials. He was also put in an over-crowded cell and the food ration was little.
He had to remain behind bars for 26 days before the court withdrew the charge due to a lack of evidence.
Meanwhile, Mathiso lost his job and people started referring to him as an abuser. He said he felt bad as he was arrested and detained for something he didn’t do and the experience was hurtful and most humiliating.
The court found that his rights were trampled on by the SAPS, who never made sure of their facts before his arrest.