Six men arrested with great fanfare by the Western Cape police are threatening to sue the police after being wrongfully arrested for the deaths of 11 people in Marikana, Cape Town, The Times reported on Friday. The arrests were heavily publicised by Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, and their pictures were circulated on social media.
But it has since emerged that the men were simply on their way to a family funeral when they were arrested.
The mass shooting occurred on September 29, allegedly as part of gang-related violence, News24 reported at the time. Times Live reported at the time that Mbalula visited the area, overhauling the police management in the area and bringing in specialised units to investigate the deaths.
"I brought my boys from Gauteng‚" he said. "Those boys who were shooting people here will fill the place with poo ... they should know wherever they are – street by street‚ corner by corner — I am on to them," Mbalula told the community.
Last Friday, the "suspects" were arrested, and Mbalula tweeted pictures of them.
Breaking news : Coming up we have nailed the suspects in the cpt marikana murder ..... We will find them incl the notorius twin...— RSA Police Minister (@MbalulaFikile) October 6, 2017
Operation squeeze!!! In full swing cpt..... No qouta pic.twitter.com/iV7lNFShYc— RSA Police Minister (@MbalulaFikile) October 6, 2017
In the middle of the night we protecting our people ....Chasing suspects, Bringing them to book pic.twitter.com/DDXts6CokC— RSA Police Minister (@MbalulaFikile) October 7, 2017
But according to The Times on Friday, six of the men arrested were released without charges, and were transporting a coffin containing a deceased family members to his funeral in the Eastern Cape when they were "arrested".
The men told The Times that they were made to lie on the ground for three hours waiting for Mbalula to arrive. They say they will sue the police for wrongful arrest and humiliation.
One of the men reportedly said the comments made about him on social media were "hurtful".
"I operate a taxi service. I also transport schoolchildren. I am being linked to a massacre," he reportedly said.
Another man said he was undressed in front of women to determine whether he was one of a pair of twins suspected to be involved in the shootings, to see if he was uncircumcised. He said the search "devastated" him.
The men claimed they were beaten and called "killers" by the police.
Mbalula's spokesperson, Vuyo Mhaga, reportedly said the minister's tweets were in response to a Zapiro cartoon ridiculing him. However, he said Mbalula could not comment in Thursday as he was locked in meetings.