A Tzaneen farmer, who is still haunted by his ordeal after he was wrongfully accused of stealing R200 fuel and held in atrocious conditions in a cell for three days, has been awarded R868 000 in damages.
Acting Judge Liezl Haupt ordered the minister of police to compensate Barend Pretorius, 57, for the consequences of his unlawful arrest at the Komatipoort border post and his unlawful detention at Malelane police station eight years ago.
Pretorius was on his way back from a business trip in Mozambique when out of the blue police questioned him about his car’s registration number, telling him to “own up to what he had done”, but refused to say what they were arresting him for.
He was only taken to court three days later, where the charge was withdrawn after it transpired that Pretorius, who was driving a white Toyota bakkie, had been arrested for the theft of fuel committed by a black female driving a green Land Rover.
Judge Haupt said the absurdity of Pretorius’ arrest spoke for itself.
She described the conditions in the cell where Pretorius was detained as atrocious. The walls were covered in faeces and flies and there was an overpowering stench.
The toilet was so filthy it was unusable and inmates only had a dirty, thin, holey blanket to keep themselves warm while sleeping on the floor in the bitter cold.
The police induced fear by asking Pretorius if he was not afraid and telling him he’d better sleep with his eyes open when taking him to the cells, which he said made him extremely anxious and fearful that he might be assaulted, raped or even murdered.
The judge said Pretorius was very emotional when he testified about the incident, which clearly still haunted him and that the unfairness of it still upset him.
He testified that the incident had destroyed his peace of mind, damaged his trust in mankind and that he had at times contemplated suicide but felt that therapy was helping him.
Judge Haupt said Pretorius was already emotionally vulnerable prior to his arrest due to a divorce, a cancer diagnosis, being injured in a car accident and an armed robbery. His arrest and detention triggered post-traumatic stress disorder.