Justice after border ordeal

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A Musina export manager has been awarded over R344 000 damages after being locked up in an oven-hot shipping container for three days for no reason with 24 Zimbabweans.

Acting North Gauteng High Court Judge Piet Ebersohn ordered the minister of police and Beit Bridge police Captain Edward Sekelele to compensate Louw van der Laarse, 34, for his “horrifying” ordeal in May 2010.

According to court papers, Van der Laarse, who was the export manager at a customs clearing company, was trying to assist a client who had brought eight weapons in his vehicle from Zimbabwe to South Africa when he was summarily arrested.

Captain Sekelele flatly refused to listen to his explanation that there was documentation for all of the weapons and the car, and he was driven at high speed in a police convoy to the Musina police station as if he was a hardened criminal.

He was forced to sit on the floor under the counter at the police station without being questioned before he was locked up in a six-metre x two-metre shipping container with about 24 Zimbabweans.

When he was put in the container, three of the prisoners immediately grabbed him and robbed him of his remaining possessions. Prisoners lay head to toe like sardines in the zinc container, that was extremely hot, and everyone had to turn around at the same time when the head-prisoner shouted.

The stench in the “cell” was unbearable and there was a plague of ticks and fleas which bit Van der Laarse all over his body. When Van der Laarse was finally taken for questioning, he broke down and cried uncontrollably, begging his captors on his knees not to be put back into the container, but was thrown back in.

The court heard that he still suffered from sleep disorders, became depressed and aggressive, could not concentrate at work and changed jobs shortly after the incident.

Judge Ebersohn said Van der Laarse had been treated very cruelly from the moment of his arrest and was detained in a hopelessly overcrowded container under filthy conditions.

The judge said Captain Sekelele had acted as if he was “power drunk” and he could only hope that Sekelele’s conduct was not left unpunished, as he was “particularly unsuited to be an officer and to be in charge anywhere”.

The judge also granted a punitive cost order against the minister and Sekelele.

today in print