On Thursday 21 February 2019 Social Justice Coalition (SJC) activists and informal settlement residents will march from the Cape Town Civic Centre to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) office to lodge a complaint against the South African Police Service (SAPS).
The complaint is a result of SAPS’ actions on 31 January 2019 outside the Civic Centre. Public order police perpetrated a violent, heavy-handed and unnecessary apartheid-style “dispersal” of poor, Black activists. A group of less than 50 peaceful protestors were singing outside the doors of the Civic Centre, some with empty buckets to illustrate how they are forced to collect water from far away, as well as relieve themselves. Then SAPS showed up, armed with rifles, rubber bullets and stun grenades. There was no warning. No one asked why we were there. No one asked us to move. SAPS ascended the stairs, and immediately released a stun grenade. As people screamed and ran, a woman on crutches was knocked over and was unable to get away. SAPS then released another stun grenade.
From eyewitness accounts and video footage, it is clear that SAPS violently, and unprovoked, escalated a peaceful situation. Activists were singing outside the Civic Centre with placards, asking the Mayor to respond on the issue of inadequate or non-existent sanitation in informal settlements. There were mothers with babies on their backs and one woman on crutches was knocked over during the “dispersal” and lay face down on the floor as she could not get back up. SAPS did this.
As a result, the SJC will be laying complaints against SAPS with the SAHRC. The actions of SAPS’ public order policing amounted to a breach of a number of human rights protected in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. We call upon the Commission to investigate the violation of human rights. The following rights have been violated:
Section 10 of the Constitution: the right to human dignity. The right to have the inherent dignity of everyone respected and protected is paramount.
Section 12 of the Constitution provides that everyone has the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private bodies. This right protects an individual against invasions of physical integrity by way of arbitrary arrest, violence, torture or cruel treatment or punishment.
Section 12 (1) (c ) of the Constitution imposes positive duties on the state to protect individuals against violations of their physical integrity by others.
Section 17 of the Constitution recognises the right to assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions peacefully and unarmed.
Section 28 of the Constitution deals with the rights of children. Section 28 (1) (d) of the Constitution provides that every child has the right to be protected from abuse and violence. Section 28(d) states that every child has the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation.
In addition to the human rights violations, SAPS assaulted SJC General Secretary Axolile Notywala after they arrested him under the archaic Regulation of Gatherings Act (RGA). Notywala has laid charges with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). The charges are for assault and for contravening the Prevention of Combating and Torture of Persons Act. The case is still under investigation by IPID.
It is worth noting that in 2018 the Constitutional Court declared section 12(1)(a) of the RGA unconstitutional. SAPS’ behaviour on 31 January is not in the spirit of democracy and aimed to suppress meaningful, peaceful political protest. In addition, the action taken by public order police illustrated how little SAPS has changed since apartheid. It was violent, uncalled for and reminiscent of apartheid. Sadly, this has been the norm for us, as poor, Black people, when attempting to engage with government.
We will continue to fight against state violence and hold those who violate our rights to account. Tomorrow we will march to uphold democracy and human rights!
Social Justice Coalition
Assemble at the Cape Town Civic Centre at 10am
March to SAHRC offices at 11am
Lay complaint at 12 noon