It is no news these days to hear people suffering for crimes they never committed. In fact, record has it that there are hundreds, if not thousands of people languishing in jails around the world, serving sentences for crimes they didn’t commit. The case of Siyabonga Shabalala will prove this very fact.
A man called Siyabonga Shabalala has spent a period of 411 days in prison but was recently discovered to be innocent of the crime he was charged with.
Just after he completed his grade 9, the police arrested Shabalala in Mpumalanga Township, near Hammarsdale after they were told that Shabalala was linked through fingerprints to a 2001 armed robbery at a post office in Delmas, Mpumalanga province.
The following year, the truth about the true ownership of the finger print was revealed when a fingerprint expert was asked to prepare evidence for court.
The expert discovered that the finger print actually belonged to an Nhlanhla Shabalala, of Gauteng, and not to Siyabonga Shabalala. Charges against him were withdrawn 6 days after the discovery.
Siyabonga Shabalala, who was 21 then, is now demanding R1.8 million in damages from the minister of safety and security for his unlawful arrest and detention.
His advocate, Auret van Heerden, has however said on Monday that such mistake was inexcusable as there were no checks and balances to see if fingerprints were what they were purported to be.
“That is wrong. The system failed him … completely” Van Heerden said pointing out that his client had been exposed to prison life which came with, among other things, gang activities.
Meanwhile, Advocate Seema Takchund, for the State, told Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Mahendra Chetty on Monday that there was no malice involved. Although she conceded negligence on the part of the investigating officer, she argued that no one had acted in bad faith.
“It’s incorrect to suggest the negligence from the arrest was perpetuated until his release,” she said. Adding that a settlement was offered in the region of R550,000 but Shabalala rejected it.
Despite his innocence in the post office rubbery case charged against him, Shabalala had three previous convictions – for theft, drug possession and break ins.