The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria has ordered the Ministry of Police to pay a man who was arrested and had to spend three nights sleeping next to a smelly toilet in a holding cell R120 000 in damages
A judge said whether an inmate or not, everyone was entitled to their constitutional right, which included not to be humiliated by a toilet bowl filled with smelly excrement.
It all started when Marchant Mumford was arrested in May 2016 on some charges which he did not mention in his court application, as he did not sue for wrongful arrest.
He was at first taken to the Krugersdorp police station holding cells where he was detained for a night before he was transferred to the Mbombela police station.
According to him, the toilets had no door and could not be used because the toilet pot was full of human faeces.
It is for this reason that he claims that he was detained in inhuman conditions, which infringed on his dignity. He instituted a damages claim as a result against the SAPS.
The police in turn did not dispute or admit Mumford’s complaints, and remained mum on the issue.
Mumford testified that following his arrest, he was conveyed in the police van to Krugersdorp police cells, where he had to sleep next to a stinking and full toilet.
He was taken to the Mbombela police station the next day, grateful that he might then get some sleep that night.
At Nelspruit police station he was again detained in the police detention cells for two nights.
Similarly, in the cells of this police station there were toilet facilities, but the toilet next to which he slept the whole night and the next night was full of human faeces and smelling.
He said if one of the inmates had to use the toilet facility, the others had to look away. According to him these conditions were inhuman and impaired his dignity.
He based his claim on the Constitution, which says: “Everyone who is detained, including every sentenced prisoner, has the right to conditions of detention that are consistent with human dignity…”
Judge Peter Mabuse said it was of paramount importance to treat detainees with respect and dignity and to detain them in humane conditions.
“It must be recalled that when a person is detained at a police station, he comes there without any equipment with which to clean the police cells, let alone the toilet.
The duty is therefore on those who have control over the premises to ensure the cleanliness of the police cells, including the toilet, so that when people are detained in there the toilet pots are clean.”
The judge added that: “It is below one’s dignity to be incarcerated in inhumane conditions such as those conditions described by the plaintiff in this matter.”
In deciding on how much to award to Mumford, the judge said no special award of damages was made simply because the matter was based on the violation of a right embedded in the Constitution.
“The boni mores (good morals) that underpinned decisions prior to 1994 were quite different from those currently radiating through our society and an award that does not give expression to contemporary values would be unacceptable.
“What the court must consider in the award of damages is the effect that being put next to a toilet pot full of faeces has had on the plaintiff. Extraordinarily little information was placed before me in that regard.”
The judge concluded that R120 00 in damages was a fair amount to compensate Mumford for his ordeal.