Come and experience life here, Bonteheuwel leader tells Cele
“You’ll hear how the bullets are going”
“Come and sleep at my house for a week. You’ll hear how the bullets are going … you can experience what life is like here,” Bonteheuwel community leader Henrietta Abrahams told Minister of Police Bheki Cele on Wednesday.
Abrahams was speaking to a packed hall in Bonteheuwel where community leaders from several gang-ridden parts of the Cape Flats met SAPS. This follows a series of protests about poor policing, culminating on Tuesday in a shutdown in several areas. Residents have accused members of the Public Order Policing (POP) of behaving in a heavy handed manner during Tuesday’s protests.
Abrahams was among 13 people arrested during the protests when residents stood with placards at intersections near several suburbs including, Bonteheuwel, Hanover Park, Ottery, Kensington and Bishop Lavis. Similar protests have been held in the past few weeks in Kensington, Bonteheuwel and Bishop Lavis.
Organisers believe Bonteheuwel and its leaders were targeted on Tuesday when stun grenades, tear gas and a water cannon were used to disperse the protesters. At the time, a handful of protesters reacted by throwing stones and glass bottles but they were quickly restrained by other residents.
“I will be laying a charge of assault with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) against POP. A couple of us will be doing so,” Abrahams said.
Abrahams told Cele that crime and gang hotspots should be declared disaster zones.“ If drug addiction is a disease, why are our children being criminalised? We want to see police patrolling the hotspots. Our children need to go to school and people need to go to work. Why don’t we have the police at these points at these times?”
She said residents were demanding a“working class summit” at the end of October to discuss ways to address crime, violence, poverty and inequality.
“We also want you to establish an inter-ministerial task team because Bonteheuwel’s issues are Langa’s issues. It’s all of our issues. So instead of the Minister going to all of these areas, let’s have the summit,” Abrahams said.
Abrahams warned Cele that protests would continue if he did not respond to their demands.
Cele, in response, said he would meet with the leaders on Tuesday to give feedback on their demands.
“We need to work together to find permanent or semi-permanent solutions for what has been harassing communities for far too long. I will speak to the Deputy President today or tomorrow to request that the relevant ministers be part of the work here,” he said.
Earlier during the meeting, the City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, JP Smith, and ward councillor Angus McKenzie were forced to leave the meeting by the protest leaders. Residents called for the pair to leave the hall before the meeting could continue. They said Smith and McKenzie had not been invited to the meeting and should not be given a seat at the table. Before leaving the hall, Smith held up his laptop screen, showing an emailed invitation to the event from the police.
Later Cele told residents he had not invited any government officials as he first wanted “to meet with organisers of the protest” to hear their concerns. “We will still approach the Western Cape government to be part of the solutions. So I did not contact government, nor was I contacted by government to come here. The only thing I saw was the organiser’s statement about what happened,” he said.
Cele said a specialised unit to deal with gangs in the Western Cape could be on the cards.
The South African Human Rights Commission’s Western Cape Commissioner Chris Nissen, who attempted to negotiate with POP members in Bonteheuwel on Tuesday, criticised SAPS for the manner in which it handled the arrests of several protesters but added that protesters also needed to act responsibly when exercising their rights. He said the Commission would assist those who had been arrested to lodge complaints with IPID.
Abdul Kassiem Matthews, of the Bishop Lavis Action Community, said despite the high rate of crime and gangsterism in Bonteheuwel, the area did not have its own police station. In “a community plagued with drugs and gangsterism” there was only a contact centre, which was closed at night, he said.
Matthews said protesters had given the police an undertaking that the protests would be peaceful each time.
“In a place like Bonteheuwel and Bishop Lavis you have to leave very early to work or school because we have an inefficient public transport system. But when you leave that early, you will be robbed, you will be killed … We make no apology for shutting down our areas.”
Matthews asked Cele for a formal investigation into the conduct of the police and management staff at Bishop Lavis police station.
Cele is expected to return to the area next Tuesday.
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