Police action incurs church wrath
October 07, 2007 Edition 1
Church leaders and the international Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions have slammed police over their treatment of informal settlement protesters at a march.
Abahlali baseMjondolo members marched to the eThekwini municipal offices in Sydenham last week to protest against forced removals, eviction from their settlements and the demolition of their shacks.
The protesters refused to leave until Mayor Obed Mlaba received their memorandum. Then, without warning, police, armed with a water cannon, rubber bullets and teargas, tried to disperse the crowd.
The Sunday Tribune witnessed the chaos as several people, including children, were injured and 14 people were arrested. They were released on R500 bail each.
Eleven church leaders, including Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip and Dr Douglas Dziva of the KwaZulu- Natal Christian Council, were at the march. They said they had been shocked by the unprovoked, violent and aggressive action of the SAPS.
The leaders said they were upset when police charged people with violating the Gatherings Act and for public violence. They said the only violence inflicted was by police.
"In the face of this violent attack by the SAPS, and in keeping with our vocation as church leaders, we will continue to stand alongside the poor as they struggle for the recognition of their own humanity and dignity. We cannot be silent while our brothers and sisters suffer such brutal injustice," said the leaders in a statement.
Father Filippo Mondini of St Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church in Pietermaritzburg was allegedly beaten when he tried to stop police from beating protesters.
On Thursday police clashed with residents of Sea Cow Lake after they staged a protest against the demolition of shacks by the municipality. Roads were blockaded with burning tyres. Police Supt Muzi Mngomezulu said police had acted within the law. "Police will apply minimum force where protesters are unruly," he said.
Centre on Housing Rights and Eviction, said the methods used by police were reminiscent of scenes in pre-1994 South Africa and were universally regarded as totally unacceptable.
The organisation has been studying protest activities in some of the country's cities and said it was appalled by the way in which police were treating protesters.
Cohre's deputy director, Jean du Plessis, has urged the eThekwini Municipality to become more attentive to shack dwellers' concerns and has demanded municipality consultation in addressing land and housing issues.