Local arrested in fuel protest says motorists must fight

2018-07-22 16:23
Scottsville resident Ilse Knott when she was arrested during the fuel protest on the N3 highway on Wednesday.

Scottsville resident Ilse Knott when she was arrested during the fuel protest on the N3 highway on Wednesday. (Ian Carbutt)

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After spending a night in a cold and mucky jail cell, a Scottsville resident who was arrested in the midst of this week’s national Fuel Prices Must Fall protest has emerged defiant, insisting that motorists must fight on against unaffordable fuel hikes.

Read: Nine arrested for blocking N3

Ilse Knott (41), chief operating officer at One Life Foundation, told Weekend Witness on Friday of her anguish at spending the night in a prison cell.

Knott said she was treated like a criminal for fighting for what she believed was right. “I had done nothing criminal. I think they could have done things differently and just ask us to remove the vehicles. We would have moved.”

Knott, who works with disadvantaged communities in Pietermaritzburg, said she took part considering the plight of the poor. “I work predominantly in France, Jika Joe and Sweetwaters. I have seen what the fuel price is doing to them, that is why this campaign is very close to my heart.”

Knott and nine other people were released on Thursday due to insufficient evidence. The 10 were supposed to appear in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court, but the matter was not placed on the court roll.

On her experience of being imprisoned for over 24 hours pending her court appearance, she told Weekend Witness: “If our criminal system treats people like animals, they will always stay criminals, but if we show them respect and dignity, they will have self-respect and then we give them a sliver of hope to choose a life without crime.”

Despite the seriousness of the allegations that were put against her and the nine other people, Knott is insistent they did not cause any public violence.

She claims that when she joined the campaign’s Pietermaritzburg WhatsApp group, it all seemed legit and there was an assurance it was not going to be violent or illegal. She said that initially, she was never supposed to be at the forefront of the protest. “There were trucks in front of us but suddenly they moved and my car was in the front. I wasn’t happy about it but I couldn’t move.”

The mother of four said half an hour after she arrived on the highway, a senior police official arrived “throwing his toys out of the cot”. One of the RTI officers warned them that the general on scene may “deploy teargas”.

“When he said that, I went straight to my car and I was ready to go but I was blocked in.”

She said the place was hurriedly swamped with police officers who were armed with R5s and bullet-proof vests.

“They [police] walked around a few cars in the front and the next minute started arresting people.”

“I sat in my car and I was busy drinking coffee. I had just finished my coffee when I heard a knock on my window.”

She said the police officer told her to get out. “I asked what the charge is, and he just shouted ‘Get out you’re being arrested’. I got out peacefully and I was escorted to where the other people were lying and I was instructed to lie down on my stomach.”

A visibly shaken Knott said she laid on the cold tar road for half an hour.

“I was petrified. We were lying on the side of the road and heavy vehicles were just passing by.

“I thought I was going to die.”

She said she was then taken to the Pieter­maritzburg Central police station holding cell. “I kept asking them what’s the charge but no one could tell me. Eventually after 1 pm, the charge came through and it was a shocker.”

Describing the experience she said it was “excruciating”.

“I’m still shaking from prison. The holding cell was so small and disgusting. I think if the SPCA finds a dog in those conditions it will be all over the news.”

She said the holding cell had blood, faeces and urine everywhere.

“The basin was blocked with vomit.”

She said when she received her lunch, she only drank the juice. “It was extremely sweet but I was thirsty and I had to drink it. The food was horrific. It tasted terrible and it smelled terrible and it was unappetising. I couldn’t sleep because of the urine stench. It was horrific.”

Knott said through her attorney, she intends to take legal action against the state.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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