Pretoria - A man, who was mistaken for a robber and arrested out of the blue in hospital where he was being treated for an injury to his arm, told the court of his humiliation while being cuffed to the bed for three weeks.
The high court in Joburg questioned the conduct of the police, who kept watch outside the hospital room of Simon Sipho Sibeko, 63.
After he was discharged, he spent two days in a cell before police caught the real culprit. They simply told him to go home without an explanation or apology.
Sibeko has claimed R1 million in damages from the SAPS, which only offered to pay him R80 000 as compensation. However, the court ordered that he should receive R550 000.
Sibeko testified that on February 7, 2011, he was arrested at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto while he was receiving medical care.
He was approached by four police officers who entered the ward and accused him of being a robber. He was arrested and chained to the hospital bed. Part of the shackles were tied to the ankle on one of his leg and another to the hospital bed.
Two uniformed police officers were on guard to ensure he did not escape. He said this was the beginning of his trauma.
Sibeko was under the constant guard of the police officers who rotated according to shifts. They always sat next to him in the ward, in full view of all patients, medical staff and visitors.
He testified that he was deprived of privacy and dignity. He detailed that if he needed to relieve himself or have a shower, he would be unchained from the hospital bed made to carry the shackle part of which was always on his leg ankle.
He was not allowed to close the toilet door when he relieved himself.
He was also not permitted to have a shower behind a closed door, and he expressed how traumatic the experience was for him.
Sibeko told the court that they were rude and often treated him in a degrading and demeaning manner. He felt humiliated and dehumanised by the whole experience.
When he was discharged, both his legs were chained and two SAPS officers, while pointing their firearms at him, escorted him to a waiting vehicle outside the hospital.
He said he was “marched” into the back of a police van in full view of the patients and hospital staff.
Sibeko also testified about his journey to Orlando police station, detailing how the van drove at a high speed, having no regard for his physical condition.
He struggled to hold on to something and, meanwhile, the two female police officers continued to point their firearms at him.
He spent two days in the police holding cells before he was simply told to go home. He has never heard from the police since.
Judge ML Senyatsi said Sibeko was denied his personal liberty and was treated with disdain. He was not afforded any respect as a human being.
“In fact, he is fortunate not to have serious health complications owing to the experience.
“The police officers did not even afford him the courtesy of privacy when relieving himself or having a shower. It is not difficult to assess how the plaintiff felt by such humiliation in a public hospital in full view of other patients, hospital staff and his wife and son who regularly visited him. Just because a person is a suspect in a crime does not render him less human in the eyes of the law,” the judge said.
He said all humans were equal before the law, irrespective of their social standing, gender, culture or religious beliefs.
“No price tag can be placed on personal liberty,” the judge said.
In awarding him R550 000 in damages, the judge said it must have been a terrible experience, especially as Sibeko knew he was innocent.