Police Violence in Sydenham, 28 September 2007
A Testimony by Church Leaders
We are appalled and deeply disturbed by the unprovoked violent and aggressive action of the SAPS at the public gathering organised by Abahlali baseMjondolo held in Sydenham, Durban on 28 September. In good conscience, we cannot remain silent in the face of the SAPS’s flagrant disregard of our country’s legal provision for our hard won right to express dissent, let alone their sheer disrespect of our common humanity as children of God.
As leaders in various churches and ecumenical organisations, we were present in the march organised by Abahlali, joining with them in their call for an end to the ongoing eviction and exclusion of the poor, and the destruction of their homes. The march was extremely well prepared, with the city officials being given ample notice, and arrangements having been made with the SAPS. The march was conducted in a disciplined manner, with the clear and stated intention being to deliver a memorandum of demands to the Mayor. Whilst the marchers were waiting for the Mayor to arrive to receive the memorandum, the SAPS chose to attack the people assembled at the agreed upon venue. We wish to state clearly as eyewitnesses, that prior to this attack by the police:
• no participant of the march threatened any violence, or threw, or threatened to throw, stones or sticks or any objects at the police, or any members of the public;
• no orders were given by the police calling for the dispersal of the people assembled, nor were any instructions or warnings given by the police;
• no “warning shots” or anything of that nature were given by the police.
What we did experience, was a completely unprovoked violent attack by the SAPS on people gathered to submit their demands to the Mayor of our city. This thuggery is deeply disturbing, and even more so as it was led by senior officers of the SAPS. Instead of protecting members of society, the SAPS violated and betrayed their trust. We cannot allow such behaviour to go unchecked, and expect the leadership of the SAPS to be held accountable for such despicable behaviour.
It was with shock that we then learned of the audacity of the SAPS in charging 14 participants of the march with “violating the Gatherings Act” and with “public violence”. The only public violence experienced in Sydenham on 28 September was that inflicted by the SAPS. The attack of the SAPS on these residents leaves us outraged. In the face of this violent attack by the SAPS, and in keeping with our vocation as church, we will continue to stand alongside the poor as they struggle for the recognition of their own humanity and dignity. We cannot be silent whilst our brothers and sisters suffer such brutal injustice.
“In Truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of my brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me…” (Matthew 25:40).
Bishop Purity Malinga (Methodist Church of Southern Africa)
Bishop Rubin Phillip (Anglican Church of Southern Africa)
Rev. Ndlazi (United Congregational Church of Southern Africa)
Brother Fillipo Mondini (Comboni Missionary)
Dr. Douglas Dziva (KwaZulu Natal Christian Council)
Dr. L. Ngoetjana (KwaZulu Natal Christian Council)
Mr. David Ntseng (Church Land Programme)
Mr. Graham Philpott (Church Land Programme)