PORT ELIZABETH, August 3 – Lawyers representing the South African Police Service admitted for the first time on Wednesday that the death of 10-year-old Maricha Speelman in 2013 happened as a result of police intentionally shooting her, conceding to the merits of the case that live ammunition was used.
“The State indicated that they are guilty of shooting the little girl intentionally. So the State has conceded the merits, the other part of the case that must be finalised is the quantum, the value of the damages,” attorney Wilma Espag van der Bank, representing parents Maria and Bonakele Speelman in a civil case in the Port Elizabeth High Court, said.
She said that the Speelmans suffered from severe post traumatic stress and depression. Van der Bank said she and her team would now work on proving the damages owed to her clients by making use of expert witnesses, after which the court would determine the amount owed to the Speelmans.
State attorney Leone Hart, representing Saps, said it was conceded that police were liable for damages.
“We conceded the merits of the case, so we are not defending that aspect of the claim. At this point we are seeking a postponement for our client to assess the quantum,” said Hart.
Four years after their 10-year-old daughter was shot and killed by police during a violent protest in Uitenhage, the Speelman family said they resented the police even more as their hearts continue to break for their youngest child who they feel was treated without dignity.
In 2013, the little girl was walking home from the shops dressed in her school uniform. At the time, she was with her 13-year-old sister Shantell when she was shot at by police. A bullet struck her in the head and she was allegedly thrown into a police van and taken to hospital.
At the time, police were adamant that only rubber bullets were used to control the crowds during the riots. However, a ballistic expert’s report indicated that Speelman was killed by live ammunition.
“As per the hospital notes, it appears that the deceased sustained an entrance wound on the right forehead with an accompanying exit wound on the back of the head,” the ballistic report read.
“The wound sustained by the deceased through the skull is not consistent with a 12-gauge rubber bullet. It is most likely a result of standard ammunition wounding like 9mm type wounding.”
The Speelmans are suing the police for R5 million in damages. The family claim it was a uniformed policeman who shot Maricha during the Langa eviction riots during November 2013.
The Speelman family appeared broken and visibly grief-stricken while speaking to African News Agency (ANA) at a coffee shop opposite the Port Elizabeth High Court on Wednesday.
“Up until this day I don’t know how my child was taken to hospital and who the doctor was. My child was treated with no dignity, I don’t like the manner in which my child was left at the hospital. They treated her like an animal and she was mishandled,” said Bonakele Speelman.
Maricha’s parents believe that after they got lawyers for their case, police tried to “cover” the incident up.
“This is the fist time that they admitted that they did wrong, for all these years they acted like they were doing something about it but no action was taken, nothing happened. It makes me so heartsore whenever I think or speak of it,” an emotional Maria Speelman said.
“IPID (Independent Police Investigative Directorate) were there the week my child died, they did not come back to me and I don’t know how far that investigation is. The police are supposed to protect but I will never trust them. I have fear they will intimidate me because of this case. No amount of money will bring back my child and I would do anything in my power to have her back but unfortunately I can’t. The money won’t mean anything I just want justice for my daughter.”
The mother of six said that Maricha’s death had impacted gravely on Shantell who suffered from depression after the shooting.
“Her life changed in an instant, they did everything together, they were like twins. Shantell sleeps a lot and she doesn’t worry about having friends. It worries me so much,” she said.