Teacher falsely jailed for rape speaks out

He spent more than a year in jail for a rape he didn’t com­mit – now this KZN teacher wants the state to pay for the pain and suf­fer­ing he en­dured


HIS blood ran cold as the en­raged man charged at him. Pri­mary school teacher Patrick Buthelezi wasn’t quite sure what was go­ing on but there was no mis­tak­ing the old man’s fury – or that it was directed at him. “You raped her!” the old man yelled. And so be­gan a night­mare that would see the 48-year-old Dur­ban teacher spend more than a year be­hind bars for a crime he didn’t com­mit.

He was even­tu­ally ac­quit­ted af­ter his al­leged vic­tim ad­mit­ted she had lied and the mag­is­trate found no ev­i­dence link­ing him to any crime.

The teacher is now su­ing the Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Au­thor­ity (NPA) for da

mages “of be­tween R1 mil­lion and R2 mil­lion”, his lawyer, Viren Singh, says.

“Mr Buthelezi was in cus­tody for more than a year. His ca­reer was de­layed, and there was a psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact on him too.”

The ac­cu­sa­tion dev­as­tated him, Patrick ad­mits. He lost his fi­ancée and his free­dom as he lan­guished in jail and he is de­ter­mined to see jus­tice served.

He re­mem­bers the day life as he knew it came to an abrupt end as if it was yes­ter­day.

It was a Fri­day in Novem­ber 2011 and he was in the pas­sen­ger seat of a col­league’s car, about to head off to an event the school was host­ing. Sud­denly they were ap­proached by a trio of el­derly peo­ple.

“We could see they were an­gry. They went straight to my col­league and de­manded he point out Mr Buthelezi. I got out of the car and a man ran at me and tried to hit me,” he says.

“He ac­cused me of abus­ing a child. I was con­fused and moved away from him and we went to the staff room to see the then prin­ci­pal. The child’s rel­a­tives said they were trans­fer­ring the child to another school be­cause she’d been raped.”

Patrick, who was the child’s Grade 4 class teacher, was in shock.

“My ini­tial thought was that she must have been abused by some­one else. But I could see the ha­tred and anger in their eyes.” Then the ac­cu­sa­tion came again. “The rapist is among us – it’s you and we want you be­hind bars,” one mem­ber of the group shouted.

They couldn’t be­lieve that he was still at the school, they added, as they had al­ready laid charges against him and had ex­pected him to be in po­lice cus­tody.

“I felt a sinking pain in my stom­ach. My ca­reer, my fu­ture, my whole life crum

‘I cried like a baby for the first time in my adult life’

bled in a sec­ond. I knew it was all over for me.

PATRICK went home and “cried like a baby for the first time in my adult life. “I knew I was in­no­cent but there was noth­ing I could do.” The next day he told his fam­ily and friends about the ac­cu­sa­tion and then called a lawyer.

On his lawyer’s ad­vice, he went to the Bhekithemb­a po­lice sta­tion in Um­lazi on the Sun­day.

“I was some­what hope­ful af­ter speak­ing to my lawyer, so I co­op­er­ated with the po­lice. I thought go­ing to the cops would work in my favour but I was wrong. As soon as they re­alised who I was they locked me up. It was the long­est night of my life,” he says.

He ap­plied for bail in court the next day but it was de­nied, as it would be again once his trial be­gan.

“The whole thing felt like a bad dream,” Patrick says. “I didn’t know whether I was alive or dead.”

He was sus­pended from his job pend­ing the out­come of the trial, which got un­der way in 2012, al­though it was fre­quently de­layed by post­pone­ments.

The stress of the de­lays “was slowly killing me in­side,” he says.

Patrick had mount­ing le­gal costs. His ca­reer was in limbo. And then his fi­ancée dumped him.

“She told me she was tired of wait­ing for me. I had no choice but to let her go.”

By the end of the year he was los­ing hope. He was out of money and drown­ing in debt, hav­ing spent nearly R200 000 de­fend­ing him­self. He was ready to call it quits. “I was pre­pared to serve what­ever jail term was handed to me,” he says.

In­stead, the Um­lazi Re­gional Court ac­quit­ted him and he was a free man on­ce­more. P ATRICK bears no ill will to­wards the girl or her fam­ily, whom he has not had any con­tact with since the trial. “I don’t hate the child. In fact, I for­gave her. One of the things I learned in prison was for­give­ness. What kept me go­ing while I was locked up was med­i­ta­tion and prayer and I read the Bi­ble a lot.”

Patrick suc­cess­fully sued the po­lice and the NPA for un­law­ful de­ten­tion for the 13 months he was held in cus­tody.

The KwaZulu-Na­tal High Court found he had been de­nied bail on the ba­sis of the po­lice’s al­le­ga­tion that another teacher had seen him rape the child – an al­le­ga­tion the teacher de­nied.

Patrick told the court he only found out dur­ing his crim­i­nal trial that the girl had im­pli­cated him as the al­leged rapist af­ter she’d been “threat­ened or re­ceived a hid­ing” from her aunt.

The court also found that al­though the pros­e­cu­tion knew there was no DNA or other ev­i­dence link­ing Patrick to the crime, his lawyer was told about it only in Au­gust 2012, when Patrick had been jailed for nearly nine months.

The in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer, the court found, “was eva­sive and did not make a good im­pres­sion on the court. He was in­stru­men­tal in with­hold­ing vi­tal ev­i­dence from the court”. His next step is to sue for dam­ages and his lawyer be­lieves they have a good chance of get­ting up to R2 mil­lion as the NPA and the po­lice have al­ready been found want­ing in a court of law.

Elaine Zungu, the act­ing di­rec­tor of public prose­cu­tions, has de­fended the NPA, say­ing “the pros­e­cu­tor dur­ing the trial told the court that at the time she made” the de­ci­sion to op­pose bail, she be­lieved that she had a strong case against the ac­cused. It is clear that she sub­jec­tively be­lieved that she had done what was cor­rect.” Zungu could not say if the NPA would be op­pos­ing Patrick’s claim.

Patrick has since been ap­pointed deputy prin­ci­pal at Isidingo Pri­mary School.

“I was happy to be out of prison but I am sad that I spent more than a year in prison for noth­ing. This is not about money – it’s about the pain and psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact on me.”

He isn’t sure if he will ever fully re­cover, he adds. “I’ve kept my blue jail card with me as a re­minder that I was once wrong­fully im­pris­oned. I am us­ing it to teach chil­dren and adults that lies can de­stroy peo­ple’s lives.”

Patrick is also plan­ning to write a book about his or­deal and hopes to meet his ac­cuser and her fam­ily.

“Hon­estly, I would also like to meet them so that we can all move on. At the same time I want them to know I have for­given them.”

‘I don’t hate the child – I for­give her’

LEFT: Patrick Buthelezi spent 13 months in prison while on trial for rape. He says only prayer, med­i­ta­tion and read­ing his Bi­ble got him through (RIGHT).

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