South Africa: Inmate Alleging Torture At Leeuwkop Disputes Psychiatrist's Report

15 November 2019

Inmates suing the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, alleging torture and assault, have been accused of "grossly exaggerating" incidents by Advocate Marumo Moerane, arguing for the respondents.

Moerane was cross-examining Mthokozisi Sithole at the Johannesburg High Court on Thursday. Sithole is one of five inmates who allege that prison officials at Leeuwkop Maximum Correctional Centre tortured and assaulted them on 10 August 2014, because they were suspected of having a mobile phone in their cell. They say they were given shocks and beaten.

Judge Ellem Jacob Francis is presiding and the plaintiffs are represented by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR). The court case started on 28 October. It will resume on 11 May 2020.

Sithole was the second plaintiff to take the witness stand. A fellow inmate, Xolani Zulu, had already given testimony.

In response to the allegation that he had exaggerated the August incident, Sithole asked Moerane: "So is counsel conceding that I was assaulted if you are saying that I am making it more than what it was?"

"Well you did sustain certain injuries but not in the manner and under the circumstances you have described," responded Moerane.

He put it to Sithole that inmates hurled various objects such as two-litre bottles filled with water, buckets of urine and human faeces, and electrical appliances at prison officials.

Moerane said the injuries Sithole sustained were as a result of prison officials restraining the inmates and trying to get them to leave the cell.

"That is a great exaggeration. That never happened," Sithole told the court. "First of all, let me correct one thing, two-litre bottles are not sold in prison, so where would the inmates get those?"

Sithole maintained that all the inmates had left the cell peacefully on August.

Moerane then took Sithole through a report by Dr Joanna Taylor, a psychiatrist, who evaluated Sithole on 23 March 2017. Moerane said Sithole was satisfied with the contents of the report during examination by LHR, but he was now under cross-examination denying that he had made some of the statements recorded in her report.

"You do appreciate that what I'm asking you about is what you told Dr Taylor during a consultation? ... Can you suggest where Dr Taylor got these things that you deny telling her?" asked Moerane.

Moerane picked apart and called into question various details that Sithole apparently told Taylor. But Sithole said that he saw many doctors and he did not remember ever consulting with a female doctor.

Janice Bleazard, for LHR, objected to Moerane's line of questioning saying that Taylor said her report was not a verbatim account of what Sithole said, but her summary of what he had told her.

"The way it is being put to him is that this is how it happened ... The report was a summary, not a complete record," said Bleazard.

In re-examination by Bleazard, Sithole maintained that he did not know who Taylor was.

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