Congolese traders live in fear of policemen

2008-08-18 00:00

Congolese refugees at the Albert Park refugee camp in Durban have accused police of beating up four men and arresting one on a charge of assaulting a police officer at the weekend. Police, however, have no record of the incident.

Refugee Frederick Ecabakeni said yesterday that the first attack took place in the market area of the CBD on Saturday. The group, who run a pavement hair salon, saw a man in civilian dress chasing a woman. He said a plastic bag containing CDs was thrown into the salon during the drama.

“I tried to push it out with my foot, but the man came back and slapped me. He did not produce a card and took out a gun, which he pointed at me. Then he sprayed [pepper spray] in my face,” Ecabakeni said. Only afterwards did he find out that the man is a policeman.

He said that throughout the incident, passersby were laughing at them.

He alleged that the plainclothes policeman hit a man who was cutting a client’s hair. The barber, Yalala Kaluta, was arrested and late yesterday afternoon returned to Albert Park to report that he has been charged with assault.

SAPS spokesman Superintendent Jay Naicker said he will continue investigating both this incident and one the refugees claimed followed on Sunday afternoon.

Ecabakeni said about nine policemen arrived in a minibus. Two officers asked for their documents and then tore them up. “Then they started punching me in the face,” he alleged.

According to Ecabakeni and other refugees, three of them were taken to a filthy deserted spot under the M4 freeway on-ramp.

One was apparently told to run while the police allegedly beat the other two. Ecabakeni claimed policemen sprayed pepper spray into a plastic bag and put this over his head before punching him in the torso.

He said he will not return to the market. “I don’t know why they did it. [I suppose] they don’t want us to run a business even though we have a trading permit.”

He said the refugees tried to lay an assault charge at the local police station, but no one would help them.

“Xenophobia among the police is one of our biggest problems,” said Alice Thomson, spokeswoman for Durban Action Against Xenophobia.

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