South Africa

Defence department may have to pay up for alleged lockdown human rights abuses

Durban - The Department of Defence and Military Veterans is again in trouble with the law as other victims of human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by soldiers during the Covid-19 lockdown are demanding to be compensated for injuries they suffered.

This time the victims are brothers Thabo and Mandla Mahlaba, who have instructed their lawyers from Adams Adams legal firm to seek damages of R535 000 for injuries they sustained when they were allegedly assaulted by a group of soldiers at Esikhawini township outside Richards Bay on KwaZulu-Natal north coast on August 29 last year.

The department escaped litigation when the SANDF board of inquiry concluded that the death of Collins Khosa in Alexandra, Johannesburg, could not be blamed on soldiers and metro police. It found that the incident that occurred in April was a result of “a lack of respect towards female soldiers and provocation”.

This time attorney Mthokozisi Maphumulo is adamant that the department should pay for the damages because the Mahlaba brothers were allegedly assaulted by soldiers who were deployed to enforce lockdown restrictions.

Maphumulo said the state had been given 30 days to compensate the victims; failure of which “our clients will institute action against yourselves without further notice”.

The pair were travelling in their car from Johannesburg when they were stopped at a roadblock.

Maphumulo said that although the two abided by all instructions when they were stopped, “they were assaulted without reason and without any explanation”.

He said the brothers had tried unsuccessfully to lay a complaint with the Military Ombud’s office and other relevant authorities.

“As a consequence, they are now suing the state,” he said.

In court papers, the lawyers said they were taking action in terms of Section 3 of the Institution of Legal Proceedings Against Certain Organs State Act, Act 40 of 2002.

“As they were about to enter the township during the night, military personnel ('your soldiers') suddenly appeared from the bushes surrounding the road, flashing lights. They violently pulled our clients to the side of the road and our clients’ complied, accordingly,” reads the legal document.

When they explained to the soldiers that they were travelling from Johannesburg, “your soldiers yelled, ‘you are lying, you are coming from the nearby farms’ as they were sworn at and beaten. We hold instructions from our clients to hold you responsible for the damages sustained as a result of the brutality,” the papers read.

Thabo is demanding R3 000 for past medical expenses, R80 000 for future medical expenses, R150 000 for general damages, pain, suffering, loss of amenities of life and disability, and a further R100 000 for constitutional damages.

Mandla is demanding R2 000 for past medical expenses, R20 000 for future medical expenses, R100 000 for pain, suffering, loss of amenities of life and disability, and R80 000 for constitutional damages.

Maphumulo has said that cases of this nature could take anything from two to four years.

“By the time the case gets to court, an exorbitant amount of legal costs would have been incurred; it is the taxpayers who ultimately pay for these costs,” he said.

The Department of Defence and Military Veterans has not responded to questions sent to its spokespersons Siphiwe Dlamini and Joy Peter.

* This is a developing story.

Investigations Unit

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