Pretoria – A man unfairly accused of committing a murder was told his throat would be cut because his “voice was out of tune” when he spent time in a tiny cell with 18 other inmates.
The Polokwane man was also confronted by an ”amorous, fat gang boss” in jail in July 2014.
The man, only identified by a high court judge as MM in his judgment, as he was also a victim of sexual abuse, was awarded a total of R400 000 in damages.
The police were ordered by Acting Judge MS Sikhwari to pay R300 000 to MM for unlawful detention and R100 000 for malicious prosecution.
The court earlier ruled that the police were liable for the damages which the man, in his early 20s, had suffered as a result of his unlawful detention in a police cell.
MM earlier told the court that he was arrested on July 24, 2011, on suspicion that he had committed a murder. He tried to explain to the police that it was a case of mistaken identity, but his explanations fell on deaf ears.
He was locked up in a cell at a local police station, along with about 18 other inmates.
MM said when he arrived at the cell, he was forced by the other inmates to take off his clothes and remain naked as part of his “baptising”.
He was later told to go and have a bath in a basin with cold water, next to a dirty toilet. It was winter and the water was freezing.
After taking the bath, he was ordered to join the other inmates in singing. MM said he was twice assaulted by the inmates who hit him on his throat after they had accused him of being “out of tune”. He was also told that they would “cut open his throat if he did not improve his tune”.
According to MM, there was one “boss” who was in control of everything. This man, he said, forced the other inmates to engage in sexual acts with him (the boss).
MM and another inmate had to hold a blanket up to create some sort of wall so that the boss could engage in his activities in private, he said.
MM said he was told that the boss only raped the big and stout inmates and that he was told that he would be spared, as he was too thin.
That night he was given a lice infested blanket. “The lice were pricking me and disturbed my sleep.” He said this was the start of his harrowing ordeal which lasted for more than three weeks.
MM testified that when he was arrested, he was in good physical and mental health, but this deteriorated since his first night behind bars.
He was detained for 25 days, after which the police suddenly told him he could go home, as they had caught the true killers. All charges against him were dropped.
Judge Sikhwari, in awarding a total of R400 000 in damages, pointed out that the aim of damages is not to enrich a person, but to offer some kind of compensation for the nightmare that person had had to endure.
The judge concluded that MM was entitled to compensation for the ordeal he had to endure at the hands of the other inmates and the emotional trauma he had suffered while witnessing some of the inmates being raped.