Granny shot by cops wins mammoth damages claim
The pensioner was caught in the crossfire as police and protesters traded salvos
For pensioner Jeanette Jack – unwittingly swept up in a violent service delivery protest and shot in the face with a rubber bullet in 2012 – the emotional scars remain.
The 61-year-old was felled when riot police opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators in KwaNobuhle, near Uitenhage, leaving the grandmother partially blind in one eye.
“Even if I see police now I feel scared. I don’t think that will ever go away,” she told Times Select after the judgment was handed down.
Seven years on, the High Court in Port Elizabeth ruled last week that the police were liable for R200,000 in damages.
Jack and her son had been in KwaNobuhle to visit an upholsterer who was refurbishing her sofas, according to their evidence at trial.
On their way in they saw a crowd of people and a group of armed policemen, separated only by Bantom Road, which snakes through the township.
As they were leaving, however, they unwittingly drove into a fracas,, with officers using teargas to disperse the crowd.
Suffering from asthma and feeling her chest tightening from the gas, she asked her son to take the wheel and when the pair got out of the car to switch places, the rubber projectile struck her in the face.
“I didn’t know what was going on, but when I came back the police started shooting and I was so scared. I asked him to drive because I didn’t know what to do. As we changed, the bullet hit me.
“It was like I was hit by a truck … I was never hurt like that before. I couldn’t see, and there was blood everywhere. The first five days my eye was swollen closed,” she said.
Bleeding profusely, her son bundled her into the care and rushed her to hospital.
A policeman named in court papers as “Warrant Officer Felix” was deployed to KwaNobuhle on the day. He was called as a witness in the trial, and denied the police ever fired at the crowd, even going as far as saying officers were not even carrying shotguns capable of firing rubber bullets.
Moreover, Felix held that they were not wearing riot gear and had been trying to engage with the demonstrators.
He said they had approached the crowd who began pelting them with stones, prompting officers to throw stun grenades at the group.
While the group fled in different directions and continued with the barrage of rocks, the police retreated to the vehicles.
Felix denied that his team used rubber bullets during the exchange in which Jack was wounded, and that she had been hit with a stone thrown by their foes.
In delivering her judgment, Port Elizabeth High Court judge Nomatamsanqa Beshe, she said the police officer’s evidence rang hollow.
She said it was implausible that officers approaching a hostile crowd would have done so without shotguns and rubber bullets, as well as their protective riot gear.
“Felix’s explanation was that they had gone there to assess the situation. What was there to assess? They knew that a group of some two hundred people were blocking roads, burning tyres and throwing missiles. There were only five of them in his team. This is highly improbable in my view,” she found.
“How is it possible that a unit would be dispatched from its headquarters in Port Elizabeth to go to Uitenhage to quell riots or demonstrations, only for them to leave their equipment behind in Port Elizabeth, as Felix at times would suggest? The police’s version is not reliable, is not credible and does not accord with the probabilities,” Beshe added.
“The fact that Felix did not even see Jack, her son and their car suggests that no measures were taken to ensure that innocent bypassers were not caught in the crossfire. That to me amounts to negligence.”
Jack’s attorney Juan Smit, of GP van Rhyn Minnaar & Co Inc, said he was pleased with the outcome of the case.
And while Jack waits for her windfall, she said she was reminded daily of her brush with death.
“My eyesight is not the same as before. I love to read, and I can still do that, but it is difficult – I need my glasses all the time,” she added.