Abusive hawks cost taxpayers R2.5m

Taxpayers will have to fork out almost R2.5m for a damages claim against heavy-handed Hawks investigators.

Image: File

Grahamstown high court acting judge Sunil Rugunanan ruled this week in favour of a prominent East London lawyer, a former Senqu municipal manager, his PA and the former mayor’s driver, and instructed police minister Bheki Cele to compensate them for unlawful arrest and detention by the Hawks, as well as for malicious prosecution, abduction, theft and assault.

Attorney André Schoombee will be paid R556,442, former town boss Mxolisi Yawa R551,442, driver John Adam R538,442 and PA Octavia Bambilawu R264,000 for wrongful arrest in July 2013 at the municipal offices in Lady Grey.

Part of this payment is for legal expenses.

The group includes two other officials, Palesa Bushula and Nozibele Mtyali, who were arrested and falsely charged with assault by prominent Hawks investigator Captain Luphumlo Lwana.

Rugunanan said the group had also been falsely charged with resisting arrest and obstructing Lwana while performing his duties. These charges were later withdrawn.

Lwana had been investigating an alleged corruption case when he stormed into the municipal offices on July 3 2013.

This week’s judgment comes after Cele’s legal representative, advocate Bevan Boswell, conceded liability for Lwana’s actions.

Rugunanan said the group had been in custody for more than 24 hours before being released on bail.

“The police cells in which they were detained were filthy and unhygienic,” Rugunanan said. “The toilet was non-functional; there was no running water and the place reeked of excrement and urine.

“It was winter and the plaintiffs were exposed to the elements and to freezing cold conditions. Plaintiffs were denied exercising their constitutional rights, while [Lwana] adopted an obstructive attitude towards bail and sought to persuade the prosecutor that an amount of R10,000 should be fixed for each plaintiff.

“Moreover, they were subjected to stringent conditions that precluded them from returning to their workplace.

“The charges were provisionally withdrawn but reinstated, at the insistence of [Lwana] after he threatened a senior prosecutor, Ms Rhona Scheun, with arrest for obstruction of justice,” Rugunanan said.

“The plaintiffs were obliged to appear in court on some 25 occasions to defend the false charges against them.”

Yawa, Rugunanan said, had been arrested in his office in the presence of politicians and senior managers, an arrest recorded by CCTV camera, which Rugunanan said revealed that the top sleuth had “pushed around several people”.

“After the arrest, Mr Yawa was partially handcuffed and paraded through the municipal office to the main entrance.

“He was refused the discreet use of a side door to avoid embarrassment.

“Due to his bail conditions, Mr Yawa was unable to return to work for a month during a critical period when his input was required for the submission of municipal reports.

“His professional reputation and integrity was tarnished and this limited his prospects of seeking employment elsewhere,” stated Rugunanan.

Schoombee was arrested while trying to plead for Yawa’s release while Adam, who had also laid an assault charge against Lwana, was arrested for obstructing justice when he drove the mayor to the police station in the wake of Yawa’s arrest.

Bambilawu, Rugunanan said, had been “abducted” in Lady Grey and driven to Bloemfontein against her will.

She was later returned to Lady Grey, where she was “pressured into admitting a sexual relationship with Yawa”.

Bushula was arrested and her cellphone was confiscated after she was spotted filming Yawa’s arrest.

In an October 24 2017 judgment, Bushula was awarded damages of R404,000, including R4,000 for the “theft” of her cellphone.

Rugunanan said the plaintiffs had been “traumatised” by state’s “malicious prosecution” and had a right to be compensated.

The group’s legal representative, advocate Richard Quinn SC, said they were “very disappointed the judge had not dealt with the unlawful conduct of the investigator”.

Lwana could not be reached on Thursday.


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