‘The police hunted me down’

Published Apr 29, 2024


Durban — An e-hailing cab driver is living with a bullet lodged near his spine after police wrongly thought his vehicle was stolen and opened fire on it in a busy Durban street.

The back injury that Preshen Sewgobind, 35, sustained after he was “hunted down” left him incapable of working. The passenger he was ferrying was not injured.

South Africa - Durban 25 April 2024. Preshen Seegobind has been living with a bullet in his back since October 2020 after police opened fire on his vehicle. He has brought a damages clam against the Police Minister Bheki Cele. Photographer: Khaya Ngwenya.

Sewgobind has brought a civil claim of more than R8 million against the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and wrongful arrest after the shooting incident in Seaview, Durban.

Despite the injury, he drove to a hospital for medical attention but the officers, who travelled in an unmarked vehicle and wore plain clothes, followed him and placed him under police guard.

He was charged with attempted murder after he was discharged from hospital.

The National Prosecuting Authority subsequently dismissed this matter due to a lack of evidence.

The four police officers allegedly involved in the shooting incident and arrest of Sewgobind have been charged with attempted murder after the Independent Police Investigative Directorate probed the incident.

Sewgobind’s civil claim is being handled by the Durban High Court. This week it was confirmed that an application to compel the police’s legal team to deliver its discovery would be heard on July 2.

Discovery is the exchange of information between parties about witnesses and evidence they will present in a trial.

The application was brought by Sewgobind’s legal representative, Phyllis Jailall, who accused the police of being “obstructive defendants” because their legal team had deliberately delayed the preliminary processes of the matter.

“We have been frustrated at every turn. They haven’t disclosed their defence and their only witnesses are facing attempted murder charges.

“They don’t respond to correspondence. We believe they are hellbent on dragging the matter because they have no prospect of success,” said Jailall.

In their plea lodged with the court previously, the ministry denied the allegations made by Sewgobind and required proof.

Lirandzu Themba, Cele’s spokesperson, confirmed: “The claim will be defended.”

On October 7, 2020, Sewgobind was transporting his passenger, a matric pupil, from Moore Road, Berea, to an address in Seaview, when he noticed four men in a VW Polo following him.

Sewgobind, who was subjected to an attempted hijacking previously, feared it might be another attempt and accelerated so that he could pull away. The VW gave chase.

Due to traffic, Sewgobind had to halt his vehicle near the Rossburgh Licensing Office on Titren Road. This was when the occupants of the VW opened fire on his car.

He made a U-turn and pulled away from the assailants and drove to the hospital.

Along the way, the distraught passenger insisted on being let out, which Sewgobind did.

Sewgobind didn’t realise he had been struck by a bullet until he placed his hand on his back and realised there was blood.

He drove to the RK Khan Hospital in Chatsworth.

While in an X-ray room, the police officers entered but did not identify themselves.

Medics on duty were reluctant to remove the bullet because of its proximity to his spine. They feared that it could paralyse him.

Sewgobind was admitted into a ward for more treatment.

That was when a group of men surrounded him, identified themselves as police and handcuffed him to his bed.

He remained under constant police watch.

Sewgobind was discharged on October 12 as a precautionary measure to limit his risk of contracting Covid-19.

He was initially detained at Umbilo before being moved to the Durban Central police station.

Sewgobind said he was wheeled out of the hospital, “man-handled” and placed inside a police van in spite of his condition still being serious, and taken away without any medication. He was kept in the police cells that were cold and in an unhygienic state.

Sewgobind said the police could not have had any reasonable suspicion that he committed any offences that warranted detention, and the subsequent charge was done with “malicious intent to justify their wrongful and unlawful conduct”.

He said that the force used in arresting him had been “grossly excessive”.

His injury left him unable to work as an e-hailing taxi driver and he has become fearful of driving.

Sewgobind said since the shooting incident he suffered from ongoing pain and discomfort. He was unable to sit for long periods, received constant medical bills, was unable to perform medium or low-intensity work and was left with a diminished quality of life.

“Specialist medical surgery in the future to remove the bullet is required, which public hospitals are not prepared to perform.”

His damages claim totalled R8 022 571.97 when it was lodged in September 2021.

Sewgobind told the Sunday Tribune he purchased the vehicle shortly before the incident as he had been retrenched from his work in the logistics field, and enlisted as a Bolt driver to earn a living.

After the incident received assurances from the dealership that the sale was legitimate and lawful.”

He said even if police had suspicions about the vehicle they had no reason to drill his car with bullets.

While in hospital police were at his side constantly, even when he went to the bathroom, was not allowed family visits, and was not allowed to take out medication when he was discharged from hospital.

“I constantly asked them why they shot me and wanted me arrested. They gave me no response. I think they panicked because they realised they did something wrong. Therefore, they charged me.”

Sewgobind wishes he never picked up the passenger on the day because it has turned his world upside down.

“I can’t work as a normal person, l live in constant fear, pain and need of medical treatment.

“As a married man I don't have a steady income and I rely on my parents for support.

“I feel robbed and cheated,” he said.

Sunday Tribune