A former KwaZulu-Natal police intelligence officer who was arrested on trumped-up charges has lamented how his wrongful incarceration irreparably damaged his life, saying he was exploited and embarrassed by the South African Police Service (SAPS).
Former warrant officer Christopher Bhekani Gumbi was arrested in January 2015 while on duty near Mkhuze in far northern KZN on charges of unlawful possession of rhino horns, fraud, robbery and being in possession of a vehicle with a false number plate.
After more than eight years of legal tussles with the SAPS trying to clear his name, the Durban High Court ruled last month that his arrest was orchestrated to tarnish his public image.
The court said the SAPS members had a malicious intent and worked in cahoots in trapping Gumbi to prevent him from investigating the illegal rendition of Mozambican nationals into various game parks in the province, where they were allegedly shot and killed by police and game rangers.
The foreign nationals were apparently murdered under the guise of being involved in rhino horn poaching. The plan was aimed at creating a false narrative that the police were winning the war against rhino poaching.
Gumbi says his life has never been the same since the arrest.
This is contained in court papers where the former police officer is seeking monetary relief of more than R500 000 from the police ministry after being unlawfully prosecuted.
“Matters have never returned to what they were before. My status is forever damaged by the false and malicious charges levelled against me by members of SAPS. Since my acquittal I was no longer able to work for the police force because of the stigma attached to me.”
The court also heard that in their concerted effort to find Gumbi on the wrong side of the law, his colleagues in the SAPS misled the National Director of Public Prosecutions into authorising a trap. A plan was subsequently hatched where his colleagues, who had been suspicious that he was investigating them, swooped on him and manufactured charges.
At the time, police referred to the arrest as a breakthrough in dismantling the rhino poaching syndicates. They claimed Gumbi had been arrested after months of surveillance, saying he was the mastermind behind the rhino horn trade.
Gumbi said his life was put in harm’s way after he was placed in a cell with other inmates who harassed him because they knew that he was a police officer.
In granting the relief sought, Judge Graham Lopes pulled no punches, saying: “I accept that the SAPS members involved with the issuing of the section 252 A entrapment warrant behaved dishonestly, they unlawfully and maliciously
arrested him, detained him and acted with malicious intent in pursuing the fruitless prosecution of Mr Gumbi.”