Two dead as police fire on crowd looting rice

Pharie Sefali and Daneel Knoetze
Two people were killed and 11 injured when police opened fire on people trying to take rice from a truck in the Eastern Cape yesterday. Picture by Mzamo Dlamini.
Pharie Sefali and Daneel Knoetze

Police have confirmed that live ammunition was used yesterday against people looting rice from a broken-down truck near Mbizana in the Eastern Cape. Two people were killed.

The Independent Police Investigations Directorate is investigating the incident, in which Mhlophe Cele, 34, and Silindile Ndzimakhwe, 19, were killed. Eleven people were injured, two of whom are in hospital.

Brigadier Marinda Mills of the Eastern Cape SAPS Media Office told GroundUp today that the deaths and injuries were caused by bullets and that shotguns had been used by police.

Mills said the horse and trailer truck transported household goods including rice and sugar. It was travelling on a steep part of the road next to Plangweni in Bizana when it got stuck.

The driver let the truck roll backwards to avoid blocking traffic on the R61 main road.

She said this caused some of the goods to fall off the back of the truck and community members came and helped themselves. Police were called to intervene.

The ward councilor of Mzamba, Ntlahla Hlebo, said he was at the scene when the confrontation started.

“When the goods were offloaded from the truck people came and helped themselves. Police came and stopped the people and put a police tape around the goods. Later a bakkie came and loaded the goods onto the back and that was confusing to the people”, said Hlebo.

Hlebo said that people did not understand why the police were allowing the bakkie to load the goods while they were being chased away.

Mills said that the bakkie that collected the goods was driven by the manager of the truck company.

She said members of the public had grabbed the manager and threatened to kill him, pulling him towards Plangweni.

“Police intervened and freed the manager from the angry group.”

“The group became increasingly more aggressive and started pelting the manager and the police members with stones,” she said.

Police had tried to take cover under the trailer of the truck but the group had continued to advance and throw stones. Police had fired “warning shots” but this had not stopped the crowd.

According to Hlebo some police officers shot bullets at the people and others rubber bullets.

Nokulunga Gigaba said she was passing by when she was shot five times in the leg with rubber bullets. She had to be hospitalised.

She said that one of the men she was with in hospital was shot, also in the leg, by a real bullet.

Hlebo and Gigaba said police officers had been seen selling looted goods. But Mills denied the allegation.

Police officers had been trying to help the manager of the trucking company salvage the goods, she said.

After original publication the following change was made: the word “forcefully” was removed from the sentence: ‘When the goods were offloaded from the truck people came and forcefully helped themselves.’

GroundUp will be publishing updates with new information.

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TOPICS:  Human Rights

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