Woman in coma after alleged police beating
January 17 2007 at 04:44AM
A Pretoria woman is fighting for her life in hospital after being brutally assaulted by Sunnyside police officers.
The assault, part of which was photographed, involved plainclothes policemen attacking a prostitute.
Pretoria News photographer Herbert Matimba started photographing the attack but was forced to flee after police turned their attention to him.
He spent the night in hiding to prevent police confiscating his photographs.
'She was just hanging in his arms as he dragged her across the pavement'
Paramedics, who rushed to attend to the woman who lost consciousness after an apparent "epileptic fit", were spotted carrying the woman's diminutive body on a stretcher to an ambulance - her blue sandals and pink handbag wedged beneath her feet.
Uche Kalu said he witnessed the attack on the woman outside Malet Flats where he lives.
"It was extremely brutal. I had just bought cigarettes from a vendor on the corner of Johann and Arcadia streets outside our block of flats, when I heard women screaming.
"As I turned around, I saw two policemen grabbing two women and throwing them to the ground before grabbing one of the women and pushing her into the back of the police van. As one of the policemen pushed the woman into the van the other tried to grab hold of the other woman, who began fighting back," said Kalu.
"That was when one of the policemen grabbed her by the head and began smashing her head against the van's back doors. The woman fell to the ground where she was kicked in the head and stomach.
'A policeman is meant to arrest criminals'
"I could hear the policemen swearing before one of them picked her up and began strangling her.
"She was just hanging in his arms as he dragged her across the pavement and threw her against the van several times before she started convulsing and shaking," he said.
Kalu said that as people began screaming, a photographer began taking pictures.
"When the policemen saw him they told him to stop before trying to grab him. I yelled at him to run and he did. I do not know where he went but I could see the policemen searching all the flat floors, waking people up as they looked for him.
"It is ridiculous. A policeman is meant to arrest criminals. If someone is shooting at a policeman then they should shoot back but they have no right to beat up someone who is not threatening them."
Matimba's girlfriend, Mpule Mashiane, said she had been terrified.
"I heard Herbert park his car, but when he did not come inside, I went to look for him.
"As I opened the front door, there were two policemen and a policewoman standing outside.
"They pushed me aside and began opening cupboards and looking under the bed, screaming at me to tell them where Herbert was.
"When I said I did not know, they took my cellphone and tried to phone him and told me I must tell him to surrender and come with them to the police station.
"When I asked them what had happened they said he had taken an illegal photo of a 'patient' they were trying to help and that he must surrender or else they would arrest him," she said.
Nomsa Zulu, who hid Matimba, said she had been terrified and had not known what was happening.
"I was talking to friends when a photographer ran to us and pleaded for help.
"When he told us what happened I rushed him to my room.
"We could hear policemen walking up and down our passage banging on doors screaming for him to surrender.
"I was scared that they would find him and hurt him," said Zulu.
Tshwane Emergency Services spokesperson Johan Pieterse confirmed that medics had taken the seriously injured woman to Pretoria Academic Hospital after they received an anonymous telephone call for help saying that a woman was having an "epileptic fit".
A paramedic said the woman had suffered severe head, neck and internal injuries as well as severe bruising.
A Pretoria Academic Hospital nurse said the woman had sustained severe trauma as a result of a serious assault.
She said the injuries could not have been caused by an epileptic fit.
"It is as though someone has bashed her on the head with a heavy object," said the nurse.
Pretoria police spokesperson Inspector Anton Breedt said that the allegations of intimidation against Matimba would be investigated as well as any other wrongdoing which had led to the assault.
o This article was originally published on page 1 of Pretoria News on January 17, 2007