City officers shoot at Khayelitsha protesters - report

2020-04-13 12:43
Law enforcement and protesters confront each other in Khayelitsha on Sunday.

Law enforcement and protesters confront each other in Khayelitsha on Sunday. (Vincent Lali)

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City of Cape Town law enforcement officers shot at land occupiers who were protesting against the demolition of their shacks in Empolweni in Khayelitsha on Sunday, GroundUp reported. 

About 60 protesters sang struggle songs in front of the officials.

GroundUp journalist Vincent Lali was on the scene and said there was no provocation when law enforcement officers began firing.

Lali said he was there for several hours on Sunday and at no point did he see anyone throw a stone or use any kind of violence towards the officials.

Conflict between the City and the land occupiers escalated this week. On Thursday, the City demolished dozens of shacks. On Saturday and Sunday there was further conflict.

According to housing activists, there is a moratorium on evictions during the lockdown, but the City argues this does not apply to illegal land occupations and that the shacks it demolished were unoccupied.

The officers used rubber bullets.

But Social Justice Coalition (SJC) activist Bonga Zamisa, who collected rubber bullets at the scene afterwards so that a complaint could be lodged against law enforcement officials, also came across a live bullet.

Zamisa said: "I was shocked to find live ammunition because I thought the officials were using rubber bullets only to disperse the residents."

Axolile Notywala, head of the SJC, said the use of live ammunition to disperse protesters "must be very worrying to everyone".

"I also saw one of the law enforcement officers pulling out his handgun and quickly putting it back when he realised I was recording," alleged Notywala.

No live bullets used

But the City's Mayco Member for Safety and Security JP Smith denied that live bullets were used. A photo of the round was sent to him.

"We don't have weapons to fire such rounds. [It was] either a plant or discharged by SAPS*. Nobody would use live ammo except rioters as our officers are shot on quite frequently these days with live ammo."

Smith said it looked like the round was fired from an R4 or R5 weapon, usually used by SAPS or the military. "We don't have R4 or R5 weapons."

"Our vehicles were damaged. Officers were very much attacked, never mind provoked. Public property was destroyed. Officers use force to stop destruction of public property."

He sent GroundUp photos of damaged law enforcement vehicles.

All the officials were wearing masks but they were not wearing name tags.

Lali witnessed members of the SJC and Khayelitsha Community Network ask officials to identify themselves, to produce a court order and to name the authorities who instructed them to demolish the shacks. The officials pushed them aside and refused to answer.

Bahia Sterris, acting provincial manager for the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), witnessed Sunday's events while she was interviewing residents and community leaders.

"The residents were not violent and didn't attack them. They were just singing and cheering. Law enforcement shot without warning into the crowd," she said.

Sterris said that officials were swearing as they chased the shack dwellers. "The law enforcement is out of hand. We had to run for our dear lives."

Lali saw her try without success to ask one official to identify himself.

Protesters dispersed

A frustrated Sterris said: "Even the official who seemed to be in charge refused to identify himself to the [SAHRC].

"It's a criminal offence to refuse to assist or hinder the commission," she said.

The officials dispersed the protesters and dragged about three of them to a waiting van beside Baden Powell Drive.

The officials destroyed about seven completely rebuilt shacks and a few others that the shack dwellers were still rebuilding.

One woman, Thandiwe Cebisa, said that officials injured her while they were destroying her shack on Saturday. "When they told me to vacate my shack, I asked them where they expected me to go," she said.

Cebisa said the officials tried to drag her out of her shack and she resisted before they decided to bring it down while she was still inside.

"The roof hit me on my pelvis as it fell and now my pelvis aches," she said.

Sterris visited and interviewed Cebisa at a community church on Sunday. "We are investigating human rights violations," she said.

SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissen said the SAHRC was also investigating the legality of Saturday's arrest of community leaders.

The SAHRC has also launched a probe into the demolition of the former backyarders' shacks, he said.

"We are looking into how long they have been here and what legal processes were followed [before their shacks were demolished]."


*News24 contacted SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Novela Potelwa about Smith's comment that the police possibly used live rounds against the protesters.

"As a law enforcement agency with investigative powers, we refrain from giving comment (especially to the media) to an issue that is not backed up by facts. The use of live ammunition by the SAPS is not permitted," Potelwa said. 

"In the SAPS there are prescripts in support of that and SAPS members know that. To answer the question: Someone must prove with facts (sworn statement to back the claim) that SAPS members used live ammunition in this instance. We, as the management of SAPS, will immediately launch an investigation and deal decisively with such unbecoming conduct."

Read more on:    khayelitsha  |  protests
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