A Durban sales manager who was arrested at King Shaka International Airport and detained in ‘appalling conditions’ for 12 days in a case of mistaken identity has been awarded R1m in damages.

The Sunday Times Daily reports that KZN High Court (Durban) Judge Graham Lopes said he would have directed the Police Minister to pay Cynthia Mobuhle Khedama even more, about R1.7m, had she asked for it.

‘The restriction of her liberty for 12 days was bad enough. That it was attended by dreadful treatment does not accord with the values of the new SA,’ Lopes said.

He noted that the motto of the SAPS – protect and serve – rings hollow in the light of the facts of this matter.

‘Urgent reform is obviously necessary and as long as the state continues using unconstitutional methods and appalling facilities, it cannot be heard to complain about the extent of the awards of damages against it. She was treated appallingly. It made a mockery of the Bill of Rights. Pre-trial imprisonment is in no way, shape or form, designed to be a form of punishment.'

The state initially defended the matter, saying the police had acted on a warrant of arrest issued by a magistrate in Philippi East in Cape Town in July 2007, when she had failed to attend court on a fraud charge.

Her identity had been circulated as a ‘wanted person’ using her ID number.

However, in 2018, the state conceded liability – that the police had the wrong person – and the trial on quantum was heard by Lopes in November last year.

In her evidence, Khedama said she was given the opportunity by her boss to travel with him to Turkey on a buying trip in December 2011.

The Sunday Times Daily report says she was seated in the international departures lounge when she was approached by two police officers who took her to a room and questioned her. She was handcuffed, put in the back of a police van, taken to Tongaat police station and placed in a small cell.

She appeared in court on the Monday where she was told she was being transferred to Cape Town.

She said it was a journey from hell. She was kept in various ‘filthy’ police cells along the way, she had no opportunity to change her clothes or shower.

In Cape Town, her fingerprints were taken, proving that she was not the suspect.

Charges were finally withdrawn in March 2012. 

One of the arresting officers, Sergeant Arnold Pather, said he had treated Khedama with respect at all times and denied using any derogatory terms to describe foreign nationals.

But, notes the Sunday Times Daily report, Lopes said: ‘She was a credible witness who clearly suffered from her terrible experience and the emotions she expressed were heartfelt and genuine.’

Lopes added that ‘a world-class Constitution is worth nothing if it is not implemented.’

Full Sunday Times Daily report