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Courtroom finds Cele vicariously chargeable for officers’ failure to guard EC household

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Tryishile Sitali had warned the police they were under threat ahead of time and argued in court they had failed in their legal duty to protect them.

File. The quantum, or the amount the minister is liable for, is yet to be determined. Picture: GCIS.

JOHANNESBURG — Police Minister Bheki Cele is going to have to pay up, after the High Court this week found him vicariously liable for his officers’ failure to protect Eastern Cape man Tryishile Sitali and his family. An angry mob set their home on fire, killing Sitali’s wife.

He had warned the police that they were under threat ahead of time, and argued in court they had failed in their legal duty to protect them. And in a ruling penned by Eastern Cape Deputy Judge President Zamani Nhlangulela and handed down on Tuesday, the court agreed.

Sitali testified in court and told of how the mob — led by three armed men: Mazaza Matoyo, Oliver Mazwana and Toto Sogaxa — had stormed their home earlier that fateful day. The root of the issue, it’s understood, had to do with professional rivalry and the success of the man’s local businesses.

“On eye contact, Mazaza drew out a firearm and uttered the words: ‘You dog, the shops have been closed because of you.’ Without any engagement on the subject matter that [Sitali] understood to be a reference to the local shops, [he] heard two gunshots. The firearm held by Mazaza was pointed at [Sitali] at the time. Mazaza’s attempt to fire a shot was frustrated by malfunctioning of the gun mechanism that enabled [Sitali] to run into the house calling for a spear to be given to him,” Judge Nhlangulela explained in the court’s ruling.

“Having been given a spear by his wife and daughter, who were screaming to raise alarm, he went back outside to confront the invaders as they were still charging towards him. The plaintiff observed Toto dropping a firearm to the ground which [Sitali] picked up, whereupon the three assailants retreated, and making threats that they will come back for him later on,” said Judge Nhlangulela.

Sitali contacted the police, who duly attended the scene but then arrested him on charges of possession of an unlicensed firearm over the gun that Toto had dropped.

And that night, while he was detained at the local police station, the crowd made good on their threat and came back and torched the home. His wife burnt to death.

The man’s son also testified in court. “Fearing the looming invasion, he and his siblings managed to run into the nearby bushes leaving their mother in the homestead. Whilst hiding in the bushes he saw his mother’s body burning as she was moving towards the water tanks of the homestead. He and his siblings ultimately ran further to their aunt’s place which is situated at the nearby village,” recounted the judge.

The police, meanwhile, maintained they had conducted a search for the three men who had been leading the mob but to no avail. They were, however, unable to provide a search plan for the suspects when asked if any was made.

Asked why patrols weren’t done to prevent another attack, meanwhile, they said they didn’t have sufficient manpower and further claimed there were in fact no proven threats to justify such an exercise.

They also claimed they had offered to place Sitali’s wife in a place of safety but that she refused. The court rejected the police’s evidence as “outrageous”. And ultimately, it found had they done what they were supposed to that day, things would have turned out differently.

“It seems to me that the police abandoned the reason for which they were summoned to [Sitali’s] homestead; thus exposed him, his wife, children and properties to the loss that was ultimately incurred. In the present case had the policemen conducted search and patrols in and around the homestead of [Sitali] in anticipation of the return of Mazaza, Oliver and Toto the damage would never have occurred,” the judge said.

Quantum — or the amount the minister is liable for — is yet to be determined



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