In a recent ruling, the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg awarded Ntokozo Patrick Xulu, a man who had been unlawfully detained for over two years, R2.6 million in damages. Xulu had been arrested in November 2018 following an incident where he fatally shot a would-be robber in self-defence. Despite acting to protect himself during an attempted robbery, Xulu was charged with murder and remained in custody for 813 days.
A Life Unravelled
Judge Irene de Vos, who presided over the case, delivered a scathing judgment, highlighting the severe personal toll the unlawful detention had on Xulu. She noted that Xulu did not receive the expected protection from the police as a victim of an attempted robbery. Instead, he faced criminal detention, a decision that “destroyed his personal life.”
“The detention must have compounded this trauma. He lost his earning capacity and his family. His wife moved away and on with her life, and he can no longer be a father to his children in the way he was before. His detention destroyed his personal life,” De Vos remarked.
The Fateful Night
Court documents reveal the harrowing details of the night Xulu was attacked. After returning home from work, he was confronted by two assailants in a dangerous neighbourhood opposite Berea Park in the Johannesburg CBD. Trapped in his car, Xulu fired warning shots to repel the attackers. When one assailant, identified as Mr. Rodriguez, appeared to reach for a weapon, Xulu, fearing for his life, shot him. Rodriguez later succumbed to his injuries.
Xulu immediately reported the incident to a patrolling officer and was on his way to the Hillbrow police station to report the self-defence act when he was arrested. Despite consistently stating that he acted in self-defence, Xulu noted that the police failed to inform the prosecution of this crucial detail.
Trial and Acquittal
During the murder trial, Xulu’s account of the events was accepted, supported by a ballistics report that aligned with his version of the incident. After spending more than two years in prison awaiting trial, Xulu was acquitted. The court acknowledged the police’s failure to disclose Xulu’s self-defence claim to the prosecution, a breach of public duty that significantly impacted Xulu’s life.
“The police not only suppressed Mr. Xulu’s defence, they conducted a wholly inadequate and shoddy investigation and delayed the investigation for months on end with no reasonable explanation for the delay. These factors compound the injustice which Mr. Xulu suffered,” De Vos stated in the judgment.
The Aftermath and Compensation
Xulu, who experienced his first arrest, described the traumatic experiences he endured during his detention, including physical assault and a mental breakdown that required over two weeks of hospitalization.
“It appears that Mr. Xulu suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalised and treated for this for more than two weeks. He explained that he was hungry, scared and cold. He lost more than two years of his life,” De Vos added.
In light of the severe personal and psychological damages suffered by Xulu, the court ordered the police minister to pay R2.6 million in damages, with an additional mandate to cover the lawsuit’s costs. The compensation includes a 7% per annum interest from 1 November 2021, until the final date of payment, highlighting the court’s recognition of the grave injustice Xulu endured.