Pretoria – One of the alleged July unrest instigators is suing the police for several millions of rand after she was allegedly arrested unlawfully, kept inside a dark room for two days and forced to reveal the pin codes of her electronic devices.
The 36-year-old woman, who has asked for her name not to be disclosed but is popularly known as “Sphithiphithi Evaluator” on social media, said she was suing the state for loss of income, trauma and public humiliation, among other things.
This followed her arrest by 10 plain clothed police officers “without any arrest warrant” except a search and seizure warrant which “did not specify the gadgets they were looking for”.
The mother of two from Ekurhuleni in Gauteng, who has been critical of President Cyril Ramaphosa on social media, was charged with incitement to public violence following the unrest which erupted in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng in response to the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma.
She has denied the allegations, saying the police rounded her up for the sole purpose of unmasking and silencing her.
Sphithiphithi Evaluator’s arrest led to an outcry in some quarters and accusations of abuse of power to silence dissidents levelled against the police and President Ramaphosa’s government in general.
In a written notice addressed to Police Minister Bheki Cele, National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole and others, seen by Pretoria News yesterday, her lawyer, Godrich Gardee of Gardee Godrich Attorneys, said his client and her family have been left traumatised by the August 28 incident.
Other recipients included the head of the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigation, also known as the Hawks, General Godfrey Lebeya.
Dated November 29, Gardee’s letter said the police picked up Sphithiphithi Evaluator after searching her home for four hours.
During the raid, the team of officers, led by Gauteng Hawks head Major-General Ebrahim Kadwa, confiscated a total of 20 gadgets belonging to her and family members.
“They were not in police uniform, nor had they arrived in marked police vehicles, and did not have a warrant of arrest but had a search-and-seizure warrant which did not specify the gadgets they were looking for, for their investigation.
“They took possession of her laptop, cellphones, iPad, wi-fi router and memory sticks (USBs) among others. Of the seized gadgets, some belonged to our client’s family members, including small children (aged 6 and 3 years). Every single gadget and device was taken from the client’s home. These devices have still not been returned to our client or family members. Of the 20 seized gadgets which were recorded in the acknowledgement of receipt document (EVQ 5/7/2021) by the SAPS (Hawks), only five belonged to our client,” Gardee said in the letter.
He added that the police later informed Sphithiphithi Evaluator that she was being arrested but “never showed her the warrant of arrest despite her protest and demand to be shown the same”.
“At around 10pm on the same date, the police officers proceeded to lead our client into one of the vehicles where our client was taken to Alberton police station, and thereafter Garsfontein police station in Pretoria, outside her jurisdiction. Our client was placed in a cell at the Garsfontein police station for two nights. The cell was cold and had no light. She was not given water or food for all these days.”
Gardee added that the police had ulterior motives for arresting his client.
“It is evident that the police arrested to investigate and did not investigate to arrest. This is sheer abuse of power whose intention can only be explained to be to muzzle the constitutional right of our client, intimidate her akin to apartheid security branch modus operandi and tarnish her image.
“The events alluded to above were traumatic and tormenting to our client. Both our client and her family now live in fear, not only of South Africa’s law enforcement, but of public reputational damage and stigma. All of this happened due to the misleading and erroneous conclusions made by the arresting officers and were further exacerbated by the newspaper articles released subsequent to the reports by the Centre for Analytic Behavioural Change published by Daily Maverick, City Press and AmaBhungane,” Gardee wrote.
Sphithiphithi appeared at the Germiston Magistrate’s Court again last week but her case was postponed to February 28 for further investigation.
In the letter, Gardee informed Cele, Sitole and Lebeya that his client would be suing the police for millions of rand.
“In the circumstances, we are instructed to demand, as we hereby do, that you should pay the total amount of (undisclosed) which amount is in respect of emotional shock and trauma, loss of income, personal security, public humiliation and constitutional damages for our client. The demanded amount herein should be paid within 60 days of receipt hereof, into our trust account, the details of which will be made available on request.
“The letter further serves as official written notification to you in terms of section 3 of the Institution of Legal Proceedings against Certain Organs of State Act 40 of 2002 that our client intends to institute such legal proceedings for the damages sustained by them as detailed herein.”
Cele’s spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba, referred all enquiries to Sitole, whose spokesperson, Dimakatso Sello, said she was waiting for input from her seniors. National Police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo could not be reached for comment as his phone was off yesterday. Hawks spokesperson Katlego Mohale also said she was awaiting a response from Lebeya.
In the period after the July unrest, which saw massive looting and billions of rand worth of damage to property, Cele had said that “12 instigators known to the police” and “big names” would be arrested. Five months later, no big names have been arrested as promised and none of the suspects has been convicted.