Wilderness family traumatised by alleged police brutality
"I've never been that scared in my life. I was so scared for my children and my dog that I literally peed myself." These were the words of a mother of three from Wilderness who was recently traumatised at the hand of alleged police brutality. According to Jen Stiehler, police officers burst into her home at approximately 17:00 on Thursday 11 October, looking for tik, mandrax, illegal firearms and dagga. "I was in my kitchen with my three young children when I saw armed men in police uniforms making their way to my front door. They knocked and I opened, but Shadow started to growl and bark. They insisted on coming in and ordered me to put my dog away. I closed the door and while taking my children and my dog to safety, they entered through the front and the back doors," she said.
Nine armed policemen allegedly forced their way into Stiehler's home and started to raid her house without identifying themselves or initially producing a warrant.
"When I asked them for identification and a warrant they laughed at me. Then I really felt scared for my babies and Shadow. I took my children into the bathroom and switched on my video camera on my cellphone to record the intrusion. All the while they were screaming at me and demanding my phone. I was standing in the passage and my bladder just couldn't hold anymore. It was degrading and humiliating."
'We can do what we want to'
Stiehler said throughout the ordeal she repeatedly heard them say, "We can do what we want and you can't stop us."
"I was trembling so much I struggled to use my phone to call my husband, who was in Sedgefield at the time," she said. They then allegedly forced her to hand over her phone. "I was in the bathroom for about half an hour waiting for Erik [Vorster] while they were walking around in the house."
"They eventually gave me the warrant to read." This is when Stiehler realised that the police had made a mistake. "The address on the warrant was wrong. So was my husband's name. He is Erik Vorster, not Eric Mueller as the warrant stated." On his arrival Erik produced his ID. "On the warrant it also said that they were looking for mandrax, tik, illegal firearms and dagga. Barring the dagga, we don't have any of that in our house," Vorster told the George Herald. "Yes, we have dagga for personal use and now it's legal. I have a couple of plants growing in the garden. That evening they arrested me for 177g of dry cannabis in my possession and charged me with dealing," he said.
Police having a jolly time
According to Vorster the police spent the next two hours after the raid "chilling" at their house while some of them watched movies with the children. "It was crazy to see this. They sat here for about two hours as if nothing had happened. As if we were friends. The incident violated our human rights on so many levels," a flabbergasted Vorster said.
Vorster was taken to the George police station where he was arrested on a charge of dealing in dagga. He was released that evening. On Tuesday he appeared in the George Magistrate's Court, where the case was temporarily taken off the roll pending further investigation.
"The police showed no procedure during the operation. They created as much chaos and panic as possible and I feel sad that they had to put a woman, a baby and two young children through this kind of unnecessary ordeal. Their 'mistake' has brought harm to children and that is unacceptable," he said.
The police were contacted for comment and indicated that they will respond in due course.
In September this year South Africa's Constitutional Court passed down judgement that makes it legal for adults to cultivate and smoke marijuana in their homes.
The court ruled that the right to privacy was violated by prohibiting the possession, purchase, or cultivation of cannabis for personal consumption by an adult in a private dwelling.
The relevant legal provisions that criminalise personal, private use of dagga by adults were declared unconstitutional and invalid. That order was suspended for 24 months. In the interim, the court ruled that adults who use, possess, or cultivate cannabis in private for their own personal consumption are not guilty of contravening these provisions. The personal consumption exception has been widely celebrated. But it raises various practical difficulties.
According to the Constitutional Court, police officers will have to assess each case on its own merits. To do so, they'll need to consider factors such as the quantity of cannabis in the person's possession and whether they can give a satisfactory account of their possession.
Erik Vorster with his wife Jen Stiehler and four-months-old baby. Photo: Kristy Kolberg