File photo: African News Agency (ANA).
Pretoria - A man from KwaZulu-Natal who spent a year and eight months in jail for housebreaking and robbery, and was then told that the charges had been dropped is to receive R 1million in damages.

Sphamandla Mtshali had instituted a claim of over R2 million against the police minister and the national director of public prosecutions in their official capacities in the high court, Pretoria. He claimed he was unlawfully arrested and assaulted by the police, and that he had contracted tuberculosis in jail while awaiting trial. He later withdrew the TB claim.

Judge Wendy Hughes turned down all his claims, but found that there had been a delay in proceeding with his trial after he was refused bail.

It emerged that a regional court prosecutor in KZN decided on October 14, 2010 not to proceed with the case against Mtshali. The decision was recorded on his case docket on the same day, but his trial was postponed to the end of February 2012 - a year and eight months later. It was only then that he was told he was free to go.

But as Mtshali had been awaiting trial in a Newcastle jail, he had to return to the jail to be freed. It then emerged that Correctional Services had only set him free the next day. The prison authorities had earlier conceded the omission, and at the time agreed to pay him R25000.

Mtshali was arrested in July 2012 at Madadeni, KZN, on suspicion of being part of a group that broke into a house and stole goods. He testified that the police broke down the door of his home while he was asleep, that they searched his house for a firearm but didn’t find anything.

He claimed that on his way to the police station, he was beaten on the head and that they only stopped when they saw that he was bleeding.

Mtshali said he spent three days in a police cell before he was taken for questioning. They tortured and blindfolded him, and pulled a plastic bag, laced with pepper spray over his head, he said.

He also claimed that he was beaten with a torch and that he sustained an open wound to his forehead. Mtshali described his time in the holding cell as “harrowing”, and said he feared for his life. He also claimed that he contracted tuberculosis in prison.

He said although he appeared in court while his wounds were visible for all to see, nobody commented on it. He never told the magistrate or the prosecutor that he had been assaulted, as he thought they would see it.

The judge concluded that he had failed to prove the assault.

Judge Hughes also turned down his claim for unlawful arrest, as she said the police had reason to suspect that he was involved in the housebreaking incident, and that they were within their right to arrest him.

In awarding the R1m, the judge took expert reports into consideration that Mtshali was suffering from post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorder symptoms.

Pretoria News