Mthethwa’s sorry ‘middle-finger’ story

It took four years and a court ruling to force his hand, but it turns out Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has sent a written apology to Cape Town jogger Chumani Maxwele, who was accused of “giving the middle finger” to President Jacob Zuma’s motorcade.

The apology is important for Maxwele, who is seeking closure after his ordeal in February 2010. He was arrested and bundled into a BMW X5 by three policemen carrying AK-47s, and allegedly had his hands tied behind his back and a black hood placed over his head in the vehicle.

The South African Human Rights Commission has now admitted that there was “internal administrative oversight” on its part, which led to Maxwele only receiving the apology seven months after it was originally sent by Mthethwa. 

It has since emerged that Mthethwa sent the apology to the commission in October last year. 

Embarrassing mishap
This week the chief executive of the commission, Kayum Ahmed, told the Mail & Guardian the mishap was “embarrassing” for the Chapter 9 institution, which has a mandate to protect, promote and monitor human rights in South Africa.

“While the commission has unconditionally apologised for the regrettable oversight, such occurrences are rare,” said Ahmed. “When such errors do occur, it acts immediately to ensure that our stakeholders are treated fairly, transparently and with [as]minimal prejudice to the rights of the parties as possible.”

Maxwele had “generously accepted” the commission’s apology for the administrative oversight, said Ahmed.

“I welcome the apology,” said Maxwele, who is now studying political science at the University of Cape Town. “I have always maintained that the police were wrong.”

But he also said the delay in the apology being forwarded to him was unsettling. The apology comes on the back of a settlement Maxwele accepted after taking the police minister to court in a R1.4-million lawsuit last year. 

Settlement figure
Although he said he was prohibited from disclosing the settlement figure, his main aim in instituting the damages claim was to ask the courts to reprimand the police and to stop the acts of police brutality against civilians. 

The M&G revealed in June last year that Maxwele was made an offer of R80 000 by the police, on the eve of the commencement of his court case.

“Now that the minister has apologised, and the ministry has paid the settlement, in many ways that is an acceptance of the wrongdoings of the police,” said Maxwele, who hopes that he will, in time, be able to move on with his life.

Maxwele has recently opened a criminal case against the bodyguards, which is now being investigated by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

He received the apology from Mthethwa only three weeks ago, he said.

Ahmed told the M&G that, when the commission’s deputy chairperson Pregs Govender was acting as the chairperson, she wrote to Mthethwa following up on the 2011 findings of the commission, which recommended he apologise to Maxwele.

“The minister responded by saying: ‘Attached please find a copy of my apology’,” said Ahmed.

“This happened in October, and she [Govender] sent a copy of this apology to my office, and I forwarded it on to others who were dealing with the matter,” she said.

The chief operating officer of the commission, Lindiwe Khumalo, said she had not received a copy of the email, he said.

Ahmed said an inspection of the office computers confirmed he had sent the email to Khumalo but, ­inexplicably, it was not in her inbox. 

Khumalo has since apologised for the administrative error.

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