The Rustenburg Local Municipality has been ordered to return a local public phone operator’s shipping containers in the same conditions the four containers were in when the municipality removed them from the main taxi rank in the mining town during a midnight raid on the facility in May 2010.

This follows Public Protector Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s investigation of a complaint that the North West municipality’s law enforcement officials unlawfully removed businessman Patrick Nkopelang’s containers from the rank.

In his complaint, Nkopelang alleged that the containers housed a total of 13 prepaid telephone sets that him and his wife used to run a public phone business and that they were damaged beyond repair during their removal from the premises.

He also alleged that he lost several other items of value during the operation, including gas lights, batteries, remote controllers, telephone cable wires and R200 in cash.

In addition, Nkopelang alleged that suffered damages to the tune of more than R260 000, being the total cost for the containers as well as the value of the other items lost during the raid. He did not have a permit to run the business.

The Public Protector found that the removal of the containers was unlawful. The municipality violated its own by-laws on street trading, in terms of which Nkopelang ought to have been given prior notice to correct the situation before the confiscation of his property.

The municipality further failed to provide him with a receipt of the goods it confiscated in contravention of the by-laws, which provide that a receipt in respect of goods seized be issued.

The by-laws also state that an amount of an applicable fine for the purpose of release of the property be made known to the owner.

The Public Protector further found that Nkopelang was prejudiced as a result of the municipality’s conduct in that his property was indeed damaged beyond repair. In addition, the fourth container could not be found even after a thorough search.

She could not make a finding regarding the items that were allegedly stored inside the containers.

The municipality, though not disputing that it removed the containers from taxi rank, argued that this could not be proven during the investigation.
On this aspect, the Public Protector advised Nkopelang to consider a civil claim against the municipality.

She directed the Municipal Manager to apologise in writing to Nkopelang, submit the report to Council for consideration and return the four containers to Nkopelang in the same condition they were in at the time of removal.

Alternatively, the Municipal Manager must obtain three quotations in respect of the damaged containers and compensate Nkopelang in line with the least expensive of the quotations.

All these must be done within 30 days of the date of the report.