WATCH: Centurion waste pickers freed after 3 months in jail
Pretoria - Two waste pickers who “fell through the cracks” of our justice system, and had to spend three months in jail for the crime of venturing outside their squatter camp during lockdown level 5, said they are eternally grateful that Lawyers for Human Rights managed to eventually get them freed.
Late on Tuesday human rights lawyer Louise du Plessis went to fetch the pair - Justice Shabangu and George Mphotshe from at the Kgosi Mampuru Prison in Pretoria.
This was after a clearly angry judge of the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria in no uncertain terms ordered Correctional Services to immediately free them from custody.
But as the judge ordered the advocate appearing for the department to release them “not tomorrow, but today”, he responded that the department could not locate them.
But by late on Tuesday the department managed to locate them and allowed them to go free - together with seven other people who were arrested at the same time in early April - for venturing into the streets during lockdown.
Lawyers for Human rights were not even aware of the other seven, who were arrested under the same circumstances.
Their crime was that they defied the lockdown regulations by walking around - a crime for which an admission of guilt fine is possible.
Instead, the group were detained in prison - where the Covid-19 infections are steadily rising by the day.
Lawyers for Human Rights launched urgent court proceedings to have the two waste pickers, who call Mushroomville next to SuperSport Park in Centurion their home.
The department admitted in court papers that they were in jail and said they were brought before a court withing the 48 hour period as stipulated by the law.
But they were not given bail as their personal details still had to be verified.
The pair yesterday told the Pretoria News that it was a harrowing experience.
“We were about 48 people in a small cell and we all slept on the floor, with one blanket each,” they said.
They also had to pay fellow prisoners, some who were arrested for crimes such as murder, with food for a place to sleep.
“It was a terrible experience. We are not criminals, we just tried to gather some waste to sell to make some money for food,” Shabangu said.
They have now given Lawyers for Human Rights a mandate to institute a civil claim for damages against the department for their unlawful incarceration.