AT least some of the novels I haven’t yet written are set in the border areas between the Free State and Lesotho.
One shouldn’t give away too much of a pending plot, but there’s plenty of scope round here for illicit diamond dealing, gun running and other kinds of fraud, corruption and violence. And it would all happen in the wild and stunningly beautiful badlands along the border between the two countries, a border that’s still the subject of much dispute even today.
I mention that background to explain why I found the recent high court judgment in the case of Moloi v Minister of Safety and Security so interesting. It’s full of useful side events with possibilities for dramatic development, just the sort of thing on which a novel could feed.
One of which unfortunately is the abduction of people from neighbouring states by the South African police. Obviously illegal it’s also counterproductive because it results in the abducted person being freed by the court.
In this case the abducted person was Francis Ralentsoe Moloi, a citizen and resident of Lesotho, and someone who is also ‘known to the police’ in South Africa.
Last month he asked the high court in Bloemfontein for help with a claim he wanted to bring against the Minister of Safety and Security and other officials. He wanted to sue for damages relating to his ‘unlawful arrest and detention’ in South Africa but he left it very late. The events about which he complained took place in 2010 and according to South African law any claim should have been filed before 7 June 2013.
Moloi also failed to give notice to the authorities of his intention to sue. Instead he tried to get the high court to give him the go-ahead. Last week however Judge Albert Kruger dismissed Moloi’s application with costs.
Here’s the back story. In January 2007 Moloi was arrested in Bloemfontein, charged with armed robbery and attempted murder, and was held in Grootvlei prison.
After the trial started in July 2009 the case was delayed a number of times. Finally on 16 February 2010 Moloi staged what the presiding judge called ‘a dramatic escape’ from the court holding cells and hot-footed it back to Lesotho. Moloi’s version is that when he appeared in court on 15 February and learnt there would be yet another postponement he ‘felt frustrated’ and took the nearest exit.
Six months later, now living and working in Lesotho, he heard that the local police were looking for him so he and his lawyer went to the police station. He was told he was wanted in South Africa on charges of armed robbery and escaping. But he was never taken to a court in Lesotho. Instead he was driven to a small police post ‘near the border with South Africa in the vicinity of Wepener’. There, on 6 June 2010, he was handed over to the South African police who arrested him and took him to Bloemfontein for trial.
First he faced charges of ‘escaping’. O no, said his lawyers, he was unlawfully abducted from Lesotho by the South African police, and this case cannot continue. The magistrate agreed; but while that case came to an end he had to stay on in jail for the armed robbery matter.
When that trial resumed his lawyers raised the same argument – the case against Moloi could not continue as he’d had been abducted from Lesotho. Again the court agreed and on 14 November 2011 the high court ordered his release.
A free man, at least by default, Moloi returned home and started a new business.
But at the back of his mind was the idea of a damages claim against the South African authorities – they should be made to pay for his abduction he thought. Trouble is while he understood that would-be claimants had eight years to make such claims in Lesotho, the period is rather less in South Africa. By the time he started legal proceedings here it was just too late and, happily for the local taxpayer at least, his claim won’t go ahead.
One thing that readers should not do after reading this is to side with the South African police. Illegal abductions were common under apartheid when police crossed borders and helped themselves to suspects whom they then either killed or handed over for trial.
Whatever the provocation there’s no place for such police behaviour in modern South Africa. – Except, of course, in novels.