A ‘den of unlawfulness’
The ministry of Police has referred a letter of complaint against the Sunnyside police station, including station commander Brigadier Papile Kekana, to the national police commissioner for further attention.
This comes after lawyer Ebenezer Essilfie sent the letter to minister Nathi Mthethwa, commissioner General Bheki Cele and the national director of public prosecutions, calling the Sunnyside police a “den of unlawfulness, oppression and suppression of freedom”.
Several police officers stationed at Sunnyside welcomed this, saying their complaints about Kekana had fallen on deaf ears up to now. “And no one dares to take him on. Our morale is very low,” one said.
Essilfie’s letter stemmed from an incident when about 20 people had allegedly been held at the police station “well over the 48-hour period” within which they should have been brought before court.
Some of these people had been in custody for four to six days and their constitutional rights had been “obnoxiously abused”, he said.
This was confirmed by police members at the station, who said Kekana only freed these detainees after Essilfie had complained.
However, Sunnyside police station denied this, saying those detained were prostitutes too scared to go back on the streets as their pimps allegedly abused them.
Spokesman Sergeant Asnath Malatsi said the charges against them was for walking the streets and endangering their lives and those of motorists.
She said five of the women appeared in court, the other five paid admission of guilt fines. “We have sent the majority of them to places of safety,” Malatsi added.
Essilfie disagreed. He said his clients were given summonses to appear in court by the end of this month, or the beginning of next month.
“The law stipulates that an arrested person must appear in court as soon as possible; within the first 48 hours,” he said.
He went to the station after acquaintances of the detainees called him on January 10. When Essilfie demanded to know why they were being unlawfully held, he was apparently told this was on instruction of the station commissioner.
His letter to the minister continued: “We humbly request that this disgraceful conduct be investigated and appropriate steps taken to curb such dictatorial and unlawful conduct by superior officers.”
It also appeared that Kekana had issued orders that no arrested person be given police bail, as was the custom for minor offences, but should apply for bail in court, he said.
Essilfie said this directly contravened the Criminal Procedure Act and the service directive given by the national commissioner to all police officers. His clients would bring a civil suit against Kekana and the police, he added.
The minister’s office acknowledged receipt of the letter, saying the matter had been referred to the commissioner.
Other legal representatives also complained. One said people would be arrested, but 24 hours later the stand-by prosecutor would withdraw charges, as there was not enough evidence.
He confirmed that clients had opened civil cases against the Sunnyside police.
Another said people would be locked up without legal grounds for doing so. An example were two girls charged with reckless driving, while the one was a passenger.
Other lawyers said there were instances where people would be arrested for minor offences, then told they would only be released if they paid an admission of guilt fine – without being taken to court.
The public also complained. “Sunnyside police would stand outside a nightclub. As you come out they arrest you for being drunk. They did not breathalyse or do a blood test on any of us.
“They kept us overnight and said we could only go once we paid an admission of guilt fine,” one man exclaimed.
None of these sources were willing to be identified, fearing retaliation from the police.
Sunnyside officers claimed many of these complaints were as a result of orders by Kekana.
They said he had called an inspector an “idiot” during a meeting in October. This officer opened a crimen injuria case but nothing has come of it.
A constable was apparently called a “bastard” in front of colleagues. “He told us he will only speak to colonels and upwards.
“If you have a lower rank, you can only speak to him if you have a colonel with you,” one complained.
“He has cancelled any family responsibility leave,” another added.
Although detectives have almost 120 dockets each to investigate, they were allegedly told that they had to effect an arrest if they wanted a vehicle to carry out investigations after hours.
“We can’t get through all our work in normal hours, but we cannot go the extra mile as we cannot always guarantee an arrest,” some said. Kekana declined to comment, referring all enquiries to the police provincial spokesman Colonel Neville Malila who said they would comment once the allegations had been investigated.