12 April 2020
City of Cape Town law enforcement shot at land occupiers protesting against the demolition of their shacks in Empolweni, Khayelitsha on Sunday.
About 60 protesters were singing struggle songs in front of the officials. I was on the scene. There was no provocation when law enforcement began firing. I was there for several hours on Sunday and at no point did I see anyone throw a stone or use any kind of violence towards City officials.
Conflict between the City and the land occupiers escalated this week. On Thursday dozens of shacks were demolished by the City. On Saturday there was further conflict, and again on Sunday. Housing activists argue that 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 has demolished were unoccupied.
The officers were using rubber bullets. But Bonga Zamisa, a Social Justice Coalition (SJC) activist, said that while he was collecting rubber bullets at the scene afterwards in order to lodge a complaint against law enforcement officials, he also came across one 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 realized I was recording,” alleged Notywala.
But 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 that the round looked like was it from an R4 or R5 weapon used by SAPS or the military. “We don’t have R4 or R5 weapons.”
He also said: “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 showing damaged law enforcement vehicles.
All the officials were wearing masks but they were not wearing nametags.
I 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 had 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.”
I saw her try without success to ask one official to identify himself.
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 shackdwellers were still rebuilding.
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.
Chris Nissen, SAHRC Commissioner, said that the SAHRC was also investigating the legality of Saturday’s arrest of community leaders.
Also, the SAHRC has 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].”