Primary school Teacher Patrick Buthelezi of Durban in South Africa, is suing the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for damages of between R1 million and R2 million, after a fault conviction on rape charges.
The teacher (48) can not forget how the fateful day that would see him spend more than a year in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, started.
It all started with an old man charging at him shouting ‘you raped her.’ And the nightmare began, only to be set free after his alleged victim confessed, she had lied and the jury found no evidence linking him to the crime.
The teacher is now suing for damages.
“Mr Buthelezi was in custody for more than a year. His career was delayed, and there was a psychological impact on him too,” said Viren Singh, his lawyer.
The accusation had a toll on Patrick it ruined his love life, as his fiancée who could not stomach being in love with a ‘rapist’ left him. As a consolation, he would be glad if justice is served, by being compensated for the losses he had to contend with while serving in prison.
He vividly remembers everything, the day was a Friday in November 2011 and he was seated in a friend’s car, next to the driver, they were about to set off for an event his school was hosting. But suddenly three elderly people, came to their car and demanded he should get out.
“We could see they were angry. They went straight to my colleague and demanded he point out Mr Buthelezi. I got out of the car and a man ran at me and tried to hit me.
“He accused me of abusing a child. I was confused and moved away from him and we went to the staff room to see the then principal. The child’s relatives said they were transferring the child to another school because she’d been raped,” he said.
Patrick, was the alleged rape victim’s Grade 4 class teacher, was totally shocked by the matter.
“My initial thought was that she must have been abused by someone else. But I could see the hatred and anger in their eyes.” Then the accusation came again. “The rapist is among us – it’s you and we want you behind bars. One member of the group shouted,” he added.
The group seemed much surprised to see him still at the school, as they had already laid charges against him, and expected him to be in police custody by that time.
“I felt a sinking pain in my stomach. My career, my future, my whole life crumbled.
“I cried like a baby for the first time in my adult life bled in a second. I knew it was all over for me,” Patrick went on.
He knew very well that he was innocent but there was nothing he could do, he was depressed and stressed.
He told his family and friends about the allegations and then called a legal counsellor, who advised him to visit the Bhekithemba police station in Umlazi that Sunday.
“I was somewhat hopeful after speaking to my lawyer, so I cooperated with the police. I thought going to the cops would work in my favour but I was wrong. As soon as they realised who I was they locked me up. It was the longest night of my life,” he said.
He made a bail application to the court the next day but it was thrown out. It was a long night for him, and he felt as if he was having a nightmare.
His job was frozen awaiting the outcome of the trial, which kicked off in 2012, amid frequent delays by postponements. These drained the energy in him, legal costs were piling, and his career was precariously hanging by a thread. His fiancée who was fed up of waiting, walked away from him.
As the year came to an end, he was penniless, debt ridden, and lost all hope, as he had spent around R200 000 defending himself, but to no avail. He was now prepared to surrender everything to fate.
At that time, the Umlazi Regional Court acquitted him. Patrick believes the best revenge is to forgive, and has no grudge towards the girl or her family, whom he has not met with since the trial.
“I don’t hate the child. In fact, I forgave her. One of the things I learned in prison was forgiveness. What kept me going while I was locked up was meditation and prayer and I read the Bible a lot,” he said.
Patrick successfully sued the police and the NPA for unlawful detention for the 13 months he was held in custody.
The KwaZulu-Natal High Court ruled that he had been unfairly denied bail on the basis of the police’s baseless allegation that another teacher had saw him rape the child – an allegation he denied.
During cross examination in court, Patrick told the court he got to understand that the girl had implicated him as the alleged rapist after her aunt threatened to beat her.
In its acquittal ruling, the court also found fault with prosecution who knew early that there was no DNA or evidence linking Patrick to the crime, but chose to tell his lawyer only in August 2012, nearly nine months since Patrick had been in prison.
The court also found the investigating officer, guilty of withholding important evidence from the court. Patrick is now suing for damages and his lawyer is hopeful their chances of getting up to R2 million are very bright, as both the NPA and the police had their in-competencies exposed in a court of law.
Defending the NPA, the acting director of public prosecutions, Elaine Zungu said the prosecutor during the trial told the court that the decision to oppose bail, was based on an assumption she that she had a strong case against the accused.
Meanwhile, Zungu could neither make it known if the NPA would be opposing Patrick’s claim or not.
Patrick has since been given new hope, another lease of life, after being appointed deputy principal at Isidingo Primary School.
“I was happy to be out of prison but I am sad that I spent more than a year in prison for nothing. This is not about money – it’s about the pain and psychological impact on me,” he said.
Patrick is not sure if he will ever fully recover from the setback, but holds no grudge. Instead he wants to use his experience to teach other people that lies can destroy people’s lives, and is also contemplating writing a book based on his ordeal.
He has strong desire to meet his accuser and her family, so that they can close the chapter and move on. For Patrick, live always moves on, he also wants to let them know that he bears no grudge against them.