By Margaret Fish.
Bowmans Attorneys and the Wits Justice Project worked on the tragic case of Dineo Kgatle, who was wrongfully arrested and incarcerated for 26 months after his electronic monitoring device (EMD) was inadvertently lost.
Kgatle was convicted in 2002 on charges of armed robberty, housebreaking, attempted murder and rape and sentenced to 28 years in prison. He was granted parole after 12 years and was fitted with an EMD. Having qualified as a plumber in prison, he got a job on a construction site in Pretoria and started to rebuild his life. Some months later he mistakenly left the base station with the GPS tracker that is attached to the EMD in a bakkie, which then drove off with it. He immediately reported this to his parole officer and the two of them went in search of the device, only to find it was locked up in an office in Pretoria and they abandoned the search.
Later that day Kgatle was arrested and spent the next 26 months behind bars in Baviaanspoort Prison. He appeared before the Parole Board three months after his arrest and was told he had violated his parole conditions and would spend at least seven years in prison before being considered for parole again. One day he read about the Wits Justice Project in a newspaper. They contacted ProBono.Org on his behalf, who asked the pro bono coordinator at Bowmans for assistance. Bowmans put partner Mandisi Rusa and candidate attorneys Werner van der Westhuizen and Stuart Payne on the case.
Eventually, in September 2017 North Gauteng High Court judge Peter Mabuse ruled that Kgatle’s arrest and detention was unlawful. He finally walked out of Baviaanspoort a free man after more than two years.
The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) abandoned the Electronic Monitoring Project in July 2017 due to many cases where the devices were faulty and those wearing them were wrongfully arrested, as well as issues relating to possible tender irregularities in the appointment of the service provider.
This story is not over, however, as the DCS is now appealing the judgment, possibly in order to prevent or delay a hefty claim for compensation on the part of Dineo Kgatle.