Close to 20 years ago, then two-year-old Tshireletso Nyeufane was shot in the head by his older brother, who was given a gun to play with by a police officer. The family in GaRankuwa is still fighting the minister of police for compensation.
The 21-year-old has lived a life in which he could not play with other children, has seizures, epileptic fits and a psychiatric disorder because the bullet ripped through and shattered his skull, leaving a portion of his brain exposed.
His mother, Joy Nyeufane, still weeps when she talks about the hard life her son has had to endure.
“He can never work like anyone else or achieve his dreams,” she said. “He might never live a normal life and provide for a wife and children.
“I have given up my life to protect him all his life – and he has given up his life because of a negligent policeman.”
Nyeufane narrates the story of the day in 1997 that her two sons’ lives changed. She had left her youngest, Tshireletso, sleeping when she went to buy him milk at a nearby store.
A police officer, introducing himself to the neighbourhood, walked into her yard with his service pistol on his hip. Tshireletso’s brother and another child wanted to see his gun and he obliged. The two played with the gun until they shot baby Tshireletso.
The officer tried to flee as the older brother wrapped Tshireletso in a blanket and ran to find a taxi to take him to the hospital.
“The nurses told me my son would not survive,” said Nyeufane. “Every day they asked me to sign a form to allow them to experiment on his body once they took him off the machines. I refused.”
Months later, Tshireletso had undergone numerous operations and was sent home.
The officer, who had handed over his weapon to the children, admitted he was guilty of negligence in court and was sentenced.
That was only the first step. With medical bills piling up, Nyeufane approached the court. She was advised to find a lawyer and take the matter up with the ministry of police.
Joy Nyeufane, Tshireletso’s mother, can’t understand why the police ministry will not settle her son’s claim for compensation. (Photos: Troy Enekvist, M&G)
In 1999, Nyeufane started out on what would become a long journey of instituting a civil claim against the minister of police. The case has dragged on as the state attorney requested one postponement after another, according to the family.
Tshireletso’s mother could barely keep her sewing business going because of the demands he made on her time. His friends alienated him.
“Children are mean. I know that now, but back then I was a monster to them and it was hard,” said Tshireletso. “They made fun of how my ‘second heart’ [the exposed part of his brain] would beat so openly. Once a kid threw a brick at me because they thought the pulsing of my brain was disgusting,” he added.
Tshireletso touches the spots where the bullet entered and exited his skull. The scars are evident and so are the scars left by the stitches from 19 years ago.
One of many neuropsychological reports before the court states that he had to stop attending school for a year when he was 10 because his seizures and epileptic fits became frequent, teachers became impatient and he was unable to write exams.
“There is strong evidence that the bullet wound he sustained to the brain has affected bilateral frontal lobes,” reads the report. “He subsequently developed post-traumatic seizures that are increasing in frequency, causing deterioration and incapacitating his progress. The seizures have been uncontrolled, despite him taking medication.”
The clinical psychologist states that, though Tshireletso completed matric, his epileptic fits are an incapacitating condition that has rendered him unemployable and incapable of living independently.
The injury has led to a psychiatric disorder that makes him unstable and prone to psychosis.
“His situation is hopeless and is likely to get worse with increasing demands,” states the report. “He must be compensated for loss of amenities, of academic achievement, occupational and social stability, and inability to enjoy a meaningful life, including parenting and marital prospects.”
But even with this report in hand, the state attorney only admitted to negligence two years ago after a Pretoria high court order.
“For years I was in and out of the courts,” said Nyeufane. “There are people I bump into there today who ask me why, after so long, am I still fighting the state.”
Tshireletso Nyeufane as a child.
No one seems to know why the state won’t settle her matter.
“Back in 1997, when the policeman testified in court, he admitted that he was negligent. All these years we have been trying to prove the state was negligent, yet they know this. Why are they making us suffer like this?” she asked.
Nyeufane’s lawyer, Dixon Tshesebe, said he was disappointed by the state’s repeated requests for postponements.
Her previous lawyer died in 2012 after about a decade of working on the case. “He was an old man and he fought so hard for my son, but he passed away before he could finalise this matter,” said Nyeufane.
Musa Zondi, spokesperson for the ministry of police, said the matter was set to be heard in 2006 and postponed to 2009.
“The guardian of Nyeufane instituted a claim on behalf of the minor during 2004 and initially claimed an amount of R750 000 but later amended the claim amount to R8?452 200,” he said.
Various reasons, including the former police officer being unavailable to testify, have caused the delays.
“Another pre-trial was scheduled by the deputy judge president for February 29 2016 and is set down for March 17 2016 for arguing of quantum,” he said.
Why police are sued
- The main reasons the police are sued: unlawful arrests and detention, collisions, defamation, “police action” and assault.
- From April to December last year 8 133 claims were registered against the minister of police.
- From April to December last year the police paid out R262 681.34.
- R417 629 905 has been paid out in the past 10 years.