First hero reports Yeoville cops

Corruption Watch’s first hero is Tebogo Sehlabane, a former resident of Yeoville who refused to be intimidated by an encounter with members of the South African Police Service.

January 20, 2012

Tebogo Sehlabane is Corruption Watch’s first hero for taking a stand to stop police intimidation.

The former Yeoville resident and her fiancé were driving through the suburb when they were pulled over by member of the local South African Police Service (SAPS). Sehlabane’s fiancé, who was driving, had just answered his cellphone.

Willing to pay a fine for talking on a cellphone while driving, the couple expected that a fine would be issued and they would be sent on their way. Instead, they were left feeling harassed and intimidated by what followed.

But, rather than chalking up the incident to experience, Sehlabane and her fiancé decided to take action. They filed a complaint with the station commander of the Yeoville Police Station and followed it up with a trip to the Hillbrow Court to speak to a public prosecutor.

Sehlabane first told her story in an email sent to Hotel Yeoville, an online community building business and social networks among the largely migrant population of Yeoville, a suburb in eastern Joburg.

In it she stated: “I am sending you this email to just share with you a very unpleasant encounter with Yeoville policemen. I hope that this is shared with others who have had similar experiences and that they can come forth and put an end to police unlawfully harassing citizens.”

Around midday on 30 October 2011, Sehlabane explains, she and her fiancé were driving in the suburb. Her fiancé, the driver of the car, answered a call and was stopped by the police. Sehlabane says her fiancé was prepared to pay the fine for driving while talking on a cellphone, but the police demanded his licence.

“When they noticed that we were ready to accept the responsibility of the action of using the cellphone while driving, they asked us to follow them to the police station. And we gladly complied.”

The couple understood that at the police station, they would be issued with a fine; however, the police kept his driving licence.

Sehlabane takes up her story: “We co-operated without any qualms and followed them to the station. They then proceeded to complete a form (for a traffic offence). We waited for close to an hour while they were very reluctant to hand us the fine. When we requested that they speed it up a bit they threatened to arrest my fiancé, which we told them was unlawful.

“Then they said they will ‘show’ us what they can do,” she says.

The police then disregarded the initial form filled in and started to fill in a notice of arrest, saying they were arresting her fiancé for a “traffic offence unless we paid R1 500”.

Sehlabane said she felt pressured to “rush to the bank to withdraw to avoid him being locked up unlawfully”.

Only once the cash was paid, did her fiancé get his licence back.

The couple immediately took up their complaint with the station commander, who advised them to go to the Hillbrow Court to apply to get their money back. They were given a copy of the traffic offence form and a copy of proof of payment to take to the court.

The next day, 31 October, Sehlabane’s fiancé approached a senior public prosecutor at the court, providing a written motivation explaining why the money should be returned. A magistrate then ordered that the money be returned in full as the incorrect procedure had been followed.

Station commander at the Yeoville Police Station, Colonel ML Motaung, acknowledged that mistakes had been made and that the constables involved – who were juniors still learning the ropes – had been informed of the correct procedures.

Speaking of her experience, Sehlabane urges citizens to stand up for their rights. “There are many incidents like these where the police harass innocent citizens … but that cannot keep happening. It is unfair and morally wrong.”

Some points to note

What to do when you are stopped by the police:

• Stay calm and co-operate with officers.

• Look at the police officials’ name tags and remember the names.

• Your driving licence may not be confiscated.

• You have the right to complain to the Station Commander of the police station if you are unhappy with the behaviour of the police officers.

• If you have a serious complaint, such as corruption, assault, theft, neglect of duties or failure to comply with the Police Code of Conduct, you can take it up with the Independent Police Investigations Directorate.

Corruption Watch’s first hero is Tebogo Sehlabane, a former resident of Yeoville who refused to be intimidated by an encounter with members of the South African Police Service.