Minister's of Law and Order Hernus Kriel is refusing to pay compensation to two survivors of the Trust Feed massacre, denying that the police shot them unlawfully. His response to the survivors' civil suit, in which they are claiming R100 000, clashes with the supreme court finding earlier this year, when Judge Andrew Wilson ruled that police had attacked the house in which mourners were keeping a vigil, killing 11 people.
The judge sentenced one of the policemen involved to death and sent four special constables to jail. After the trial, the minister appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate the role of the police and whether there had been a cover-up. But in his pleas responding to the survivors' action, Kriel effectively prejudges the inquiry findings by exonerating the police. Ida Radebe and Nomagoli Zulu are between them claiming more than R100 000 for the injuries, pain and permanent disfigurement they suffered as a result of the shootings. The women claim that their attackers were policemen acting in the course and scope of their duties.
The ministers agrees they were employed as policemen, but denies both that they acted unlawfully and that they were acting iii the course of their duties. However, he says that even if the women are able to prove the policemen were acting as servants of the state, their claims should still be dismissed because they did not bring them to court within the six-month period stipulated by the Police Act.
This week Radebe and Zulu said it was "unconscionable'' for the minister to use this argument. They said that at the time of the shooting their attackers disguised their identities and the fact that they were members of the police force. After the incident, they had continued to hide their involvement and were helped in this cover-up by other policemen. The women only discovered the true identities of their assailants in October 1991, when the Trust Feed trial began in the Pietermaritzburg Supreme Court. They argue that the conduct of their attackers and other members of the police force was designed to frustrate any civil action against the police or the minister, and that the court should therefore not accept this ground to their claim.
Other civil claims arising out of the Trust Feed trial are pending. Several are being brought on behalf of a number of children whose parents were killed in the shooting, others concern people whose homes were burnt down in the incident. When the case of Radebe and Zulu is heard, it will test an important clause in the law which gives the police special privileges. In terms of the Police Act, civil claims must be brought within six months of the relevant incident or the claims lapse. Other civil claims lapse after two years. This will be the second case being heard in Natal to test the issue.
The family of Griffiths Mxenge, allegedly murdered by a police "death squad", has launched a civil suit which the police also argue was brought too late. The Mxenge family argues that since the police allegedly covered up their involvement, the six months' provision should not apply.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.