Umlazi deputy principal detained over false rape accusation awarded R1.6m
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DURBAN - AN UMLAZI deputy principal was awarded more than R1.6 million in damages this week over his wrongful arrest and detention for more than a year, after he was accused of raping a schoolgirl.
Patrick Buthelezi said he was now looking to get his life back on track after many years of pain, suffering and humiliation that he had to endure.
Buthelezi handed himself to police after he was accused of raping a 9-year-old pupil at his school in November 2011, and he was subsequently denied bail. He remained in detention at the Westville Prison until December 14, 2012, the day he was acquitted of the charges brought against him.
The State failed to prove its case against him, and the medical evidence led in his trial did not correspond with the allegations raised.
With the help of professional counsellors, he returned to the teaching profession, shortly after his acquittal.
For his pain and suffering he launched his civil claim. The ministers of police and justice, the national director of public prosecutions and director of public prosecutions Kwazulunatal were the respondents in the matter, handled by Judge Mahendra Chetty, at the Durban High Court.
The crux of Buthelezi’s civil claim was that the investigating officer failed, during his bail hearing, to alert the court about certain “unsatisfactory features” in the victim’s evidence.
It included that the child was first beaten by her guardians, and after the prompting of another aunt, she accused Buthelezi of raping her.
He said the investigating officer and prosecutor were aware that the girl claimed another teacher at the school witnessed a part of the rape incident, but the teacher in question gave a statement which indicated she “saw no such thing.”
But the teacher’s statement was not put before the court.
Buthelezi, who was represented by attorney Viren Singh, claimed that the arresting officer, the investigating officer and the prosecutor, withheld vital information at his bail hearing, which effectively misled the court.
Judge Chetty first dealt with the merits of the case put up by Buthelezi.
He found that the woman officer who took the other teacher’s statement was told that she did not witness the rape, but the officer failed to alert the court.
The officer also said the child’s aunt had indicated in a statement that the girl gave varying reasons for her crying on the day of the alleged incident.
The aunt continued to interrogate the child, but gave no details. But that changed when the aunt threatened the child with a stick and struck her twice with a belt and asked whether she was raped.
The girl said Buthelezi had sexual intercourse with her, and that the other teacher witnessed the incident.
Through testimony from the child’s grandmother, the court learnt that something was troubling her granddaughter two weeks before the incident, and that she cried at night.
Much of the scrutiny the investigating officer was subjected to by Singh related to his decision to withhold the statement by the other teacher that she did not witness the rape, which Singh believed would have changed the outcome of the bail hearing.
Chetty noticed that the officer was not prepared to take responsibility for this, and preferred to lay the blame with the prosecutor.
“He did not fully disclose to the court that the crucial witness did not corroborate the version of the victim. He was simply content with the scenario, that he handed the docket to the prosecutor,” Chetty said.
The investigating officer’s decision to oppose bail was also probed, especially the fact that the child implicated Buthelezi, after being threatened, beaten and asked a leading question by the aunt, which rendered it inadmissible evidence.
The court was at odds with him over why he did not interview other children at the school as the grandmother said the girl was crying and upset for a while.
It emerged that the child’s grade was writing exams on the day in question and seemed unlikely that the rape occurred at the time given by the child.
He insisted he conducted a proper investigation in spite of the various “shortfalls” pointed out to him in court.
The prosecutor claimed she was not aware that the child was beaten prior to making her statement.
When asked why she did not inform the court that the teacher denied witnessing the incident, she said she believed Buthelezi was going to lead her as a witness.
In spite of medical report showing that the child had no fresh vaginal injuries around the time of reported rape, the prosecutor said she believed they had a strong case against Buthelezi.
The court was also informed that after analysis no traces of Buthelezi’s DNA was found on the girl.
She eventually conceded that she had more time to prepare, she could have adjourned for further investigations and that she “inadvertently misled the court” by not submitting certain information.
Buthelezi said he cried like a baby when he was arrested and denied bail. He questioned why the investigating officer and prosecutor worked against him.
He said prison life had left him hugely traumatised and he had to pay protection money to inmates to guarantee his safety.
While in prison, Buthelezi said his fiancée, who he had paid lobola for, dumped him.
He was grateful for the support he received from staff at the school and when he returned to school, the principal called a meeting with parents to clear the air about some untruths told about him.
Buthelezi said the parents were happy to have him educate their children and he is now the school’s deputy principal.