A Nigerian, who walks with a limp, is suing South Africa’s minister of home affairs, the local government, a police officer and an official at the Department of Home Affairs for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages as a result of this alleged maltreatment.
Justin Ejimkonye, was shot in the leg by police in Johannesburg in 2010. The reason is unclear: It took the police 18 months to charge Ejimkonye with any crime. When they did bring a charge, saying he was carrying cannabis, a public prosecutor decided not to pursue the case for lack of evidence. However, Ejimkonye says police shot him because he refused to pay them bribes.
Over the past seven years Ejimkonye, who says he is in the country legally, has refused to keep quiet.
Now he is pursuing a civil claim for damages. He is suing the local government for 2.5 million rand in damages for personal injury and the Home Affairs ministry for 2 million rand for illegal detention, his lawyers say. He also hopes his civil suit can help reinstate his visa.
He says law enforcement and immigration officials have continued to brutalise and wrongfully detain him. A high court has twice ordered the police to set him free.
“I still think every day they will come for me,” said Ejimkonye, 31. “I’m fighting formy life”
His case has been filed at the Johannesburg high court and is due to be heard in August. It is a fresh challenge to the misrule and abuse that even the government sees in the immigration system.
“This is an important case and the evidence is extensive and conclusive,” said Bulelani Mzamo, Ejimkonye’s attorney. “A lot of people in authority are in deep trouble.”
National police declined to comment on the case; the police investigatory body said it had not been informed about it. Told of the case by Reuters, Mayihlome Tshwete, a spokesman for Home Affairs, said he would look into it. Tshwete said the problems it highlighted were “systemic” in the past but were improving under Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, who was appointed in 2014 and has la
Ejimkonye said he arrived in South Africa in October 2005 and was issued with various permits until 2007 when he married a South African, which entitled him to stay permanently on a spousal visa.
He had dreamed of a future as a soccer player, but by early February 2010 was running a hair salon in Germiston, a suburb of Johannesburg. One day, he says, police stopped him as he was driving his Toyota truck. They demanded 900 rand ($70), which he refused to pay. The police impounded his vehicle and charged him a fine to recover it.
A few weeks later, on Feb. 25, the same police officers stopped him again, documents drawn up by both Ejimkonye and the police show.
Ejimkonye says he told them he would not pay any bribes. At that, he says, police officer John Kichener Johnstone removed his police issue Beretta revolver from its holster and fired a 9 millimetre round into the back of Ejimkonye’s leg.
The Germiston police station did not respond to requests for comment, or to contact Johnstone. Savage Jooste and Adams, the law firm representing the local government and officer Johnstone, declined to comment.
The firm has submitted a defence in Ejimkonye’s case, Ejimkonye’s lawyers said.
In a separate statement prepared for a court hearing that in the end did not take place, Johnstone said he and his police colleagues were doing “special duties,” which he did not detail at the time.
They went to question a group of men, including Ejimkonye, who were standing at a street corner. Johnstone saw the “bud of a fire-arm at the rear of his (Ejimkonye’s) pants,” said the statement, seen by Reuters.
Ejimkonye then tried to escape and a chase ensued, Johnstone said in the statement. Hurdling bushes, Johnstone said, he shouted warnings at Ejimkonye several times before opening fire as a last resort.
A police crime docket drawn up by the Germiston police on the day of the shooting said Ejimkonye was guilty of “pointing (a gun) at an officer.”
Ejimkonye says he did not have a gun. He collected two witness statements which supported his version of events.
Neither they nor Johnstone’s statement were submitted in court because the police did not actually bring charges against Ejimkonye at that time.
Instead, in April 2010 Ejimkonye launched his own lawsuit against the police.That grew into the claim that is due in court in August.
N ational police spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi said questions about Ejimkonye’s case against police would be dealt with by the internal Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).
The IPID spokesman said it would not have looked into it automatically because in 2010 it was “not obligated to investigate cases of shooting unless the shooting resulted in a death.”
Tshwete, the spokesman for the home affairs ministry, could not comment on Ejimkonye’s case but said there were some “rotten apples” in the police and home affairs ministry.
“We are not saying all police and home affairs officers are saints.”
In Ejimkonye’s case, a court eventually found that law enforcement officials had broken the law.
In August 2011, 18 months after Ejimkonye was shot in the leg, police summoned him to face a charge of possession of “dagga,” or cannabis.
The public prosecutor withdrew that charge due to lack of evidence, a Department of Justice document shows.
Ejimkonye said he subsequently faced more intimidation and physical attacks. On Oct. 14, 2013, according to documents submitted by Ejimkonye’s lawyers, Johnstone and colleagues raided the Nigerian’s home in the middle of the night and took him to the police station where he was kept for 36 days.
A month into his detention an immigration officer, Boitumelo Mokobi, revoked his visa, saying it had been illegally obtained. Mokobi could not be reached for comment.
With his visa revoked, Ejimkonye became an illegal immigrant. The immigration authority sent him to Lindela, the detention centre in Johannesburg. There he spent the next six months, court documents show – well beyond the maximum declared by law.
In April 2014, Judge Segopotje Mphahlele of the South Gauteng High Court ordered his release.
The judge ruled that the police and the government had “dismally failed to comply with the applicable requirements of the Immigration Act” and Ejimkonye had been unlawfully detained. The Nigerian thought he was free.
But on May 27, 2014, Ejimkonye says, Johnstone and his crew broke into his home, assaulted him and threw him into the boot of a car.
They took him to another police station where, a June 2014 court ruling says, he was held on charges of being an illegal immigrant.
Again, his lawyer applied to the high court, which ordered his release. Judge Mphahlele found this second arrest and detention had also been unlawful, and ordered that police should not approach Ejimkonye until his immigration situation was clarified. Ejimkonye has gone into hiding.
“The police and immigration officials always think they will get away with it,” said attorney Mzamo. “With Ejimkonye’s case, we want to send a clear message that it’s not business as usual”