South Africa

Maverick Citizen: Eastern Cape

Men incarcerated for talking to monkey owner win damages case against police

(Photo: Adobestock)

The police and the National Prosecuting Authority have settled cases for wrongful arrest and detention with two men who were arrested and kept in prison for two months after they spoke to a man with a pet monkey.

Two Uitenhage men who were arrested and jailed for two months because they were talking to a man who illegally kept a monkey as a pet have won a claim for damages – with police and the National Prosecuting Authority settling their civil case out of court on Tuesday 19 November.

Zolani Ntsasa, who is seriously ill, accepted a settlement offer of R230,000 while another R230,000 will be paid to the estate of the late Mzisile Zondani, 49, who died seven months ago.

Ntsasa, 28, was very weak on Monday but attended the first day of the court hearing.

He said that at the time of his arrest he was unemployed and looking for work. He did casual garden work wherever he could find it. He was standing in Bubbs Avenue in Uitenhage with Zondani when they encountered a man with a vervet monkey. The man told them he was at the shops to buy a peach for his monkey, named Bhuti. The conversation took place at a spot frequented by casual labourers touting for work.

Ntsasa said the man with the monkey tried to flee when he saw an SPCA inspector approaching. But police, who were assisting the SPCA, arrested all three men for “possession of a monkey”.

It is illegal to keep a vervet monkey as a pet without a permit and the third man, the owner of the monkey, was successfully prosecuted.

Ntsasa, who had no criminal record, was detained at the Church Street police station in Uitenhage and later sent to St Albans prison, where he was held pending a bail application.

On 8 December 2015 he was granted bail of R500, but could not afford to pay it and was forced to stay in prison for another two months – until released on “free bail” in February 2016.

The next month the charges against him were withdrawn.

Ntsasa and Zondani both claimed they were arrested without good cause and the arrests were made to “harass” men who frequented that spot in search of work.

The two men’s legal team further claimed that the police officers “wrongfully and unlawfully” opened a case docket and laid criminal charges against them.

The SAPS, in papers before court, claimed to have found the men “in possession” of a vervet monkey. According to police and the NPA, this was an offence considered serious enough for a bail setting and not a release on warning.

“He should have indicated that he could not pay the bail that was set,” the state’s papers read.

Ntsatsa said the arrest and the time he spent in prison made him “feel small”.

“I felt useless, like a criminal. I was scared,” he said.

Kevin Brown, the SPCA inspector who confiscated the monkey, said it had been taken to an animal rehabilitation centre.

“The monkey was confiscated by myself and the police, as evidence. Later the animal was moved to the rehab centre as we did not have the facilities or expertise to deal with it,” he said.

The men’s attorney, Wilma Espag van der Bank, said the police settled claims of wrongful arrest for R30,000 for each man and the NPA agreed to pay R200,000 to each for their incarceration.

She said Zondani had two children and the money would be used to look after them. MC

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