Category Archives: Mandy de Waal

GroundUp: South Africa’s water wars

by Mandy de Waal

Ma Gladys Mphepho hovers over a pot on a two plate cooker in her shack in Papamani, an informal settlement outside of Grahamstown. “We do not have dignity,” she says, stirring the rice, flavoured with beef stock, that is her family’s Sunday lunch. “We do not know what it means to have dignity. Forget about any question of dignity,” says Mphepho.

It is a sweltering day in the heat of summer and Mphepho is talking about her daily struggle to live, which is exacerbated by the crisis that the people of Papamani, and greater Grahamstown, have with water. There are two taps in the whole of Papamani which serve close on 30 homes. Each home houses some five or six people. Do the maths, and that’s over 150 people who get water from two taps. That’s to drink, make food with, to wash with and to do anything else that requires water.

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Daily Maverick: Thandiswa Qubuda – another dead brick in the wall of rape imprisoning South Africa

Thandiswa Qubuda – another dead brick in the wall of rape imprisoning South Africa

Very little is known about Thandiswa Qubuda, a recent casualty of South Africa’s violent rape pandemic. She was raped, beaten and died after lying brain dead in hospital for six weeks. There are no photos of her in newspapers, no stories of her life, no media headlines about the savage gang attack that led to her death. Qubuda’s passing would have been largely unnoticed, were it not for activists who demanded that people learn about what happened to her: that she was an unemployed woman, failed by the police and by a justice system supposed to protect her. By MANDY DE WAAL.

The 19th of January 2013 brought a rare pleasure for Thandiswa Qubuda of Hlalani in Grahamstown. Friends asked the unemployed woman, who was in her late twenties, to join them for an evening out. It was a Saturday, and Qubuda and her mates headed to Fingo Village, one of the Eastern Cape city’s oldest townships.

It is not certain exactly what happened, but just after midnight, as Saturday night became Sunday and a heavy rain fell, Qubuda faced unspeakable terror. The young woman was dragged by as many as eight men to a toilet in the midtown, gang-raped and brutally beaten. She was left to die, prostrate and half-naked in the pouring rain; unconscious and with her arms folded over her exposed breasts.

After she had lain unconscious for hours in the downpour, an ambulance would come and dispatch Qubuda to Settlers Hospital in Grahamstown, where she died some six weeks later, gasping for breath.

“Thandiswa Qubuda’s passing is horrifying. She met her death in the most savage and brutal way. If Thandiswa were from a wealthy family, her story would have been in all the newspapers, the police would have rounded up the perpetrators, and they would be in jail, but because she is unemployed she is the wretched of the earth. She does not appear in the headlines and her rapists walk free,” says Ayanda Kota, founder of the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM).

Kota’s sister and brother-in-law were amongst the first people on the scene after the community was alerted to the rape. “There were about eight men who were raping Thandiswa when a neighbour heard the screaming and went to see what was happening. The men said that this neighbour must join in the rape or he would be shot, but the man ran off to alert the community and call the police instead,” Kota said on the phone from Grahamstown.

“The rape took place on the corner of New Town Street and E Street in Fingo village. It must have happened after midnight because people started calling the police and ambulance from about 01h45, but the police and the ambulance only arrived after 04h00 in the morning,” he said.

“What is disturbing is that the police station is less than a kilometre away from where the rape occurred. My sister and brother-in-law were at the scene where Thandiswa was found. She was half-naked and her pants were dropped at the knees. She was lying on her back facing upwards, unconscious with her arms folded over her chest as if to cover her breasts. The people who first found her thought she had already passed away,” Kota explains.

“She was lying in that rain for two hours. After 04h00, the ambulance came, a stretcher was taken out and the paramedics rushed her to hospital. Police in Grahamstown were told that it was a rape case when they got to the scene later, but they didn’t do anything. They didn’t even go to the hospital,” alleges Kota.

“A case was opened for attempted murder,” UPM spokesperson, Xola Mali, told Daily Maverick from Grahamstown. “There was a rape charge, but there was no evidence to back it up, so that case was dismissed by the court this past week.”

Independent city newspaper Grocott’s Mail reported that two men aged 19 and 20 were arrested a day after the rape and brutal assault, but were later released from custody with a warning because there wasn’t enough evidence to hold them.

The investigating officer on the case, John Manzana, told Grocott’s Mail that the pair had been arrested because “circumstantial evidence in his docket indicated that both of them were seen walking with the victim and entered the place where the victim was later found”. The state prosecutor, Asanda Koliti, withdrew rape charges because the state “had not received confirmation that the woman had indeed been raped,” the newspaper reported.

“The young woman was transferred from Settlers Hospital in Grahamstown to Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth, but the doctors there said that they could do nothing for her because she was already brain dead,” Mali told Daily Maverick. “She was just sent back from Port Elizabeth to Grahamstown.

“She was an unemployed woman, but she had friends who had piece jobs (occasional employment), so sometimes her friends would get money and they would occasionally go for a night out. Because she was unemployed she largely depended on her friends and community members for food, so an evening out was a rare pleasure for her,” Mali added.

“This is not the first case we have seen like this. There are many more cases like this here in Grahamstown. As usual the perpetrators will be roaming Grahamstown looking for new victims and posing a threat to society. Violence against women and children is escalating on a weekly, if not daily basis,” he said.

“The fact that the men who did this are free shows you the inefficiency of the justice system. This is a poor woman who comes from a poor family. Her family does not understand the system – they trust that the police and the justice system will do the job, but they are being let down,” said Mali.

“The parents of this woman who is now dead can’t afford lawyers to probe the case and to get to the bottom of the matter, so there is a big possibility that these men will go free,” Mali explained, adding that together with other activists and civic organisations in the area, the community of Grahamstown would be mobilised to march on the local police station to demand that ‘enough is enough’.

“We have no faith in the justice system itself, because the police are not properly trained and can’t investigate properly. The police no longer work for the community – they are militarised to deal with activists and people who fight for the rights of the people. The SAPS only protect the interests of the rich, the government, of the elite. We need to make sure that the justice system works for everyone who lives here, and not just the rich or people in government,” Mali said.

Kota warned that rape was now the new norm in South Africa, and added that the police were negligent, incompetent and unequipped to deal with the onslaught of sexual violence against women. “If you open the newspaper or turn on the TV or radio, you see that police are now assaulting, raping and killing people. They no longer serve the people,” he alleged.

“The police have become the oppressors and are part of this plague of injustice that is stalking our communities. We are a broken society. We can no longer trust those who are supposed to protect us, and we do not value our own. We have become a society that is broken and just sees women and children as objects with no value. We can no longer be patient with this disease because our society is criminally sick. We have to change this now: we need a revolution against this rape and violence,” Kota said.

Daily Maverick phoned the Grahamstown police station to offer the SAPS right of reply, but by the time of publication, there was no response from the regional spokesperson, Mali Govender, or from the police, despite assurances that a comment would be forthcoming.

A memorial service will be held for Thandiswa Qubuda on Thursday 07 March 2013 at BB Zondani in Grahamstown at 16:00 to commemorate the life – and mark the tragic death – of a woman lost to the war against rape.

Daily Maverick: Tactical Response Team’s brutal reign in Wesselton, Mpumalanga

Tactical Response Team’s brutal reign in Wesselton, Mpumalanga

by Mandy de Waal

Community violence and police brutality have returned to the Mpumalanga township of Wesselton, just outside Ermelo, where it is alleged that the feared Tactical Response Team has become a law unto itself. Residents claim that beatings and humiliating rituals are the order of the day for the people of Wesselton, adding that the local SAPS office refuses to hear their cries for help. As the situation escalates, they are striking matches. By MANDY DE WAAL.

Residents of Wesselton in Mpumalanga went on the warpath recently, torching two cars to protest alleged police violence and the occupation of the area by the Tactical Response Team (TRT).

“On Wednesday 05 December the people took to the street and torched two cars because they were angry with the Tactical Response Team. A few hundred, mostly young people, were protesting and poured petrol on both cars and set them alight,” Msukaligwa Concerned Committee (MMC) deputy chairperson, Dumisani Mahaye, reported to Daily Maverick.

Mahaye said a woman was shot with a rubber bullet on the cheek. “The TRT wanted to arrest her grandson, and the woman wanted to know why, when she was shot in the face,” Mahaye said. He added that the Tactical Response Team had been a fixture in the township for well over a month now.

According to Mahaye the police division, known in the townships as the “amaberet”, were deployed on and off in the Mpumalanga township during 2012, but moved in permanently during November; local residents heard they will be present in the area until mid-January 2013.

“We don’t know why they are here, but our concern is how they behave in the community. Usually people hang out in the parks and every time when the TRT get people, they search them, they beat them, they pour liquor on them. These police sometimes they want all of the people to lie face down on the floor – like to sleep on the floor – and the police walk all over those people,” Mahaye said, before describing his experience with the Tactical Response Team first hand.

“I was beaten by these police while I was in a club. The first time was on a Friday, when they came in and told the DJ to switch the music off. Then a man wearing a brown overall in the TRT screamed: ‘Face the wall. Face your future’. That is when the beatings started. If people weren’t quick enough, or they didn’t face the wall, they were in trouble. If the wall is full, people have to fall down and lie on the ground face-down,” the township activist told Daily Maverick about an attack which took place at a local night club called Dube Tonight in September 2012.

“When they first got here I tried to talk to the TRT. I said: ‘Look, I don’t mind you searching me but…’,” Mahaye’s voice trailed off. He relayed how the TRT started to beat him even before he could get the words out of his mouth. “On Sunday they were back, but I knew how they work now. Some guy screamed and told the DJ to switch the volume off, and then the usual routine followed,” he said.

“The TRT will slap you. They will kick you. They will punch you with the fist in the stomach. If they do not walk on the tables they walk on people’s bodies on the floor. And you don’t look at them. You don’t ask questions. You don’t say anything. If you look at them or ask questions they will brutalise you,” Mahaye told Daily Maverick during a telephonic interview from Wesselton.

Mahaye further alleged that anyone who asked these police any questions about what was happening would be beaten up. “If you ask any questions the TRT will beat you up and they will say to you: “You are not in the position of authority here. We are the ones with guns here. Just do as you are told’,” the activist added.

Mahaye said he was an eyewitness to another incident at a small shopping complex called Thembise in the township. “There are ten shops and a butchery and a bottle store, so the people, they hang out and braai their meat. They open the boot of their car, play music and braai. When the TRT got there they told everyone to face the wall or the floor. They made everyone do push-ups. After that the beatings started,” he said.

“Ever since these police arrived there are ongoing complaints. It is happening almost every day now that people are traumatised; they have firearms pointed at them; people are hit, and our residents are getting very, very angry,” said Mahaye, who stressed that he condemned the torching of a security company vehicle and a Transnet vehicle on Wednesday 05 December 2012 when residents went on the rampage.

“The problem is that the people are now getting so angry that they want to fight the TRT. They want to kill these police or to burn them, because we are making reports but nobody is listening to us,” Mahaye said.

The Wesselton activist said affected residents had gone to the SAPS police station in Ermelo to lodge complaints against the Tactical Response Team, only to be told that the local police weren’t able to help. “If someone wants to open a case they are told to go to the Ipid (the Independent Police Investigative Directorate) offices in Nelspruit. The police here say they don’t have the power to help us. Now the community think that this is a way of trying to get the cases squashed,” said Mahaye.

The Wesselton resident said that Nelspruit was located some 212 kilometres away from Ermelo, and that taxi fare to and from the city meant that locals would need R400 for a return trip. Mahaye said that people didn’t have the money to make the journey.

Mpumalanga police spokesperson, Colonel Leonard Hlathi, said violent incidents the TRT were alleged to have been involved in had to be reported to, and investigated by, Ipid before he could comment. “One cannot just give a comment without any investigations being done. We have all the resources in place for people who need to make such a report, and such an incidence will be investigated by Ipid. I can’t make any comments until such time as these incidents are reported to Ipid, so these complaints can be levelled against the police,” Hlathi said.

When Hlathi was advised by Daily Maverick that Wesselton residents were being instructed by local police to travel some 212 kilometres to Nelspruit to report the incidences of violence to Ipid, he was outraged. “Ipid has done marketing, even on radio, to say that you don’t have to go to them physically to report a case or uncalled for conduct. People can just phone them or get the number from Ipid,” the colonel said.

“There is no reason for the local police to hide this information because Ipid is a legitimate body. There is no way the police can hide this information and I think that you can quote me to say that no police person has the right to hide the availability or existence of Ipid, let alone a number, to anyone who wants to lodge a complaint. The police can’t do that. They can’t do that,” Hlathi said.

Wesselton was set ablaze during service delivery protests in February 2011 which set the stage for violent confrontations between residents and the SAPS. Mayahe and some 100 other residents were arrested and charged with public violence after municipal property to the value of R350,000 was damaged.

After the protests, Mahaye and other activists were picked up by the police and allegedly tortured, with the aim of implicating senior provincial politicians who opposed Premier David Mabuza. Mahaye stated that during the brutality he was repeatedly smothered in plastic, had his head dumped in water, and tortured in ways that would make him stop breathing. Later video evidence of the SAPS abusing a local resident would come to light, and back up the activist’s claims of torture.

David Bruce, a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, recently asserted that police action in Wesselton created a template for what was to follow at Marikana in August 2012. “In both operations, it is alleged that those who were involved in the protests were arrested, with a large number of them being tortured. After the Wesselton operation, this led to 25 charges of assault being lodged with the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD). In Marikana, this led to 94 cases of assault being lodged with the ICD’s successor, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate,” wrote Bruce in Business Day.

“In both cases, it is alleged that individuals among the police torturers focused on a specific objective. In Wesselton, it was to get confessions that political opponents of Mabuza had instigated the protests. In Marikana, the alleged objective of these torturers was to obtain ‘confessions’ that former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema had instigated the protests,” he added.

Bruce penned that a SAPS force which had turned into “political instruments whose task is to uphold the interests of the ruling elite” within the ANC were deployed in both Ermelo and Marikana. “The ANC’s efforts towards politically re-orientating the SAPS have not been comprehensive but have been targeted at specific components, most notably the Crime Intelligence and Operational Response Services divisions.”

Bruce added that the SAPS could no longer be trusted to play a nonpartisan role in politics and stated that “a culture of political deception, manipulation and intimidation that extends to the use of assassination as a political instrument” would be in force in SA. Bruce’s picture of the future is one where the police stand back when members of the ruling party are violent, but actively target dissidents.

Back in Wesselton, Mahaye heard that the police wanted to pick him up in connection with the latest protests. “The police hit people in the street to try to try get confessions about the protest. They want someone to confess and to point out another person, and then they go and find that person and beat them up too so as to get more confessions,” Mahaye said during the phone interview.

Twenty Wesselton residents were arrested after these latest riots, amongst them four youths between the ages of 14 and 16.

“Someone phoned me to say that I am on the list of the people that must be arrested, and that the police say that I am the instigator for the riots last week. But no. I am not. This time I am not involved, but still they think I am the one,” Mahaye said.

The activist no longer sleeps at his home and lives in fear because of the trauma of his alleged torture experience. He says he fears that if he is apprehended by the police again, he will be brutalised.

For many in troubled townships, a nonpartisan police force that terrorises communities and targets activists and opposition politicians is no portent of the future: it is the awful present tense they’re forced to live with.

Daily Maverick: Today’s loan shark feeding frenzy, tomorrow’s revolution

In Grahamstown, there’s a woman who only gets R120 from her monthly social grant of R1,200, because the rest is ‘eaten up’ by loan sharks. In a country where close on half of all credit-active people are impaired, the rampant growth in unsecured lending and illegal lenders is creating a real context for insurrection. By MANDY DE WAAL.

Hlomela Dlamini* has been working for the Makana Municipality in Grahamstown for some 15 years. He gets paid about R4,800** gross a month, but only nets little more than half of that. Each month he has the usual government deductions and there’s money that must be paid to his trade union, SAMWU. He also has repayments taken off his salary for Old Mutual, Sanlam and three funeral policies. The deductions off his municipal package total R2,270.00**, which means that after 15 years of working for government, his net pay is R2,530.00**.

But some two-and-a-half thousand rand is not what Dlamini takes home and uses to live off. When the money goes into his bank account the Mashonisas take their cut, and that cut is the cruellest.

The word Mashonisa means “to sink”, because these unscrupulous lenders sink the people who borrow money from them so deeply in debt that for the most part, the borrowers never fully recover. In places like Grahamstown, people know that once the Mashonisas have access to your bank account, you belong to them. These lenders are unregistered and illegal and can charge 100 or 200% a month on a debt. It is estimated that there are about 30,000 illegal credit providers in the country.

This is how that Mashonisas work. If you take home some R2,500, like Dlamini, after all your salary deductions you’ll probably be able to get R1,500 in credit from the unregistered loan sharks.

You run out of money towards the end of the month and there’s an unforeseen emergency, so you take your payslip to these people who promise quick and easy cash loans. The Mashonisas make you sign papers granting them access to your bank account to subtract the principal amount you’re borrowing, plus the exorbitant interest.

You need R1,500, so you are given the money in cash, then and there, at the time of applying for the loan. At the end of the month your salary is deposited and the Mashonisas take their principal amount of R1,500 back plus interest of about R700, which means you’re only left with R230 in the bank, and you’ve got a whole new month to get through. So what happens is that you’re back knocking on the Mashonisa’s door again, looking for the next loan. And so the credit trap rolls on from month to month, because marginalised people mostly don’t have the wherewithal to get out of this cruel debt trap.

Ayanda Kota of the Unemployed People’s Movement, who helped Daily Maverick set up the interview with Dlamini and acted as a translator for the conversation, opened the municipal worker’s “pantry” after receiving his permission. Inside there was some rice, sugar, tea bags, salt, Rajah spice, Rama margarine, peanut butter, polony and a five-litre bottle of cool drink.

“I am not feeling well. I have so much pain. But I must make sure that my child is all right. The peanut butter, polony and juice – they are for my son. I want to make sure he is all right when he goes to school.”

Dlamini’s son recently started school and leaves the small home they share in the mornings to go and learn. The father and son live in a one-roomed shack with one bed, a small stove with two plates, an old sofa and a piece of rope on which clothes hang.

Kota told Daily Maverick that along with many others in Grahamstown, where unemployment is set at some 70%, this man’s spirit is broken. “People drown themselves in liquor. Or they just adapt and get used to suffering. There are those who live in poverty and just accept this as normal, and that’s dangerous. There’s something very wrong with that.”

As the founder of the Unemployed People’s Movement, Kota says Dlamini’s story is the everyman-and-woman’s story of marginalised living Grahamstown, a university town where poverty is rife. “Because unemployment is so high, people who do work must provide for the unemployed extended family. The National Credit Act says that furniture shops and lenders are not allowed to tantalise these people by sending cards advertising loans and letters. But they do this despite of the National Credit Act.”

Advertisements enticing people struggling to make ends meet to take out cash loans are commonplace. The promise of easy cash loans are found in the post, in an SMS on mobile phones, in local newspapers and street advertising. Loan offices are mushrooming in cities and towns across the country. And when people can’t get loans going through a legal route, they go to the Mashonisas.

“Unsecured lending is a major problem in this country,” Stephen Logan, a credit law expert and authority on the National Credit Act, told Daily Maverick. “There are people who can’t get credit at even the highest interest rates, and they go to the Mashonisas, who lend credit without being registered as credit providers.”

Kota said that unregistered loan sharks had wreaked havoc with people in his family and the wider Grahamstown community. An elder member of Kota’s family gets R1,200 a month as an old-age grant from the government. The man experienced a difficulty and went to a Mashonisa to borrow money.

“He borrowed the money from that Mashonisa, and they deduct the repayment and the interest straight back from his account. He now gets R750 and the Mashonisas, they take R450 for themselves each month,” Kota added. The man is trapped in a vicious debt cycle with the Mashonisas, so he borrows R750 each month, and the loan sharks take their interest of R450, and so it goes on because he hasn’t got the means to get out of their clutches.

“I know another person in Grahamstown who gets R1,200 a month but now only draws R120 from the bank. She has had to go back again and again to borrow more money, and now she is trapped in debt. She is trapped in poverty. There is nothing she can do.” The problem, Kota believes, is that people finance the basic cost of living, and then need to borrow more and more to survive.

This woman has borrowed to such a degree that now she doesn’t even get a survival amount and is dependent on others for her well-being. Over time her ongoing lending from these informal loan sharks has eroded her grant to literally nothing.

Figures issued by the National Credit Regulator (NCR) show that the financial health of consumers is deteriorating, while unsecured lending has grown significantly. Data released in September for the second quarter of 2012 showed that the value of new unsecured credit granted during the period increased by 17.55% when compared to the previous quarter. Looking at the year-on-year picture in the NCR’s data (see table below) the value of unsecured loans increased by 36.12%.

Credit granted by credit type (Source – NCR):

“The problem that we have is severe. Forty-seven per cent of all credit-active people are credit impaired, which means that nine million people are at least three months behind on their payments on one account, or worse. At the same time there’s this big growth in unsecured lending. The sustainability of the credit market is in question, because we are in a very low interest rate cycle, and as interest rates pick up, that level of indebtedness will become totally unsustainable,” says Logan.

Speaking to Business Day recently, the CEO of the National Credit Regulator, Nomsa Motshegare, said the rise of consumer debt, the increase in unsecured lending and the upsurge of what she called “unscrupulous lenders” could lead to civil unrest.

“Unsecured loans are not a bad product, but the rate at which it is being extended, especially in an environment where there are already high levels of consumer indebtedness, is of major concern to us,” Motshegare said. “The point is that totality of debt is increasing. While unsecured loans are only 9.1% of the total loans, people have cell phone accounts, they have to pay their municipal rates and taxes while coping with rising food and fuel prices,” she said.

Kota said that social unrest had been brewing for some time, and that the prevalence of protest and civil insurrection is increasing. “Unrest is building from the bottom up. People are losing confidence in the government, and everywhere you go, people talk about Nkandla.” Kota added that government excess and corruption fuelled anger amongst people who were struggling to make ends meet and losing their livelihood to loan sharks. “So many people are talking about the looting of governments. Revolution doesn’t have a blueprint. But you can see that it is building bottom-up.”

“There are so many instances where people aren’t getting paid because of garnishee orders. As prices increase people bear the brunt of this crisis. In the mines, on the shop floor and on the street you see working people prepared to go on unprotected strikes which shows there is major discontent in this country that’s coming from the bottom up,” he added.

Logan said that a stagnant economy meant salaried employees were seeing their spending power eroded. “With the rising cost of food, energy, and even the cost of water, people are struggling. Everything has become much more expensive over time, and it has become so expensive to live in South Africa that people are borrowing to finance their life or lifestyle,” Logan said.

“We have already seen social instability because of garnishee orders. This was part of the problem at Marikana, because the miners had these loans that they were paying back, and were left with so little to live on. This is a countrywide problem, and something we could see more of. The growing debt impairment will lead to more debt collection,” the credit expert said.

“South Africa’s population will be taking home less and less money, and this will lead to more civil unrest. There is a credit bubble that is coalescing and this is exactly what we don’t want to see happening. We don’t want to see greater and greater rates of impairment. We want to rather see it stabilising and reducing. The government and others are trying to fix this, but it is really very late in the day.”

As industry experts and media pundits pointed to the merging of a credit bubble, the Banking Association of South Africa (BASA) and the Ministry of Finance issued a statement at the beginning of November, in which both recognised SA was facing a problem.

“Representatives of major retail banks, the Banking Association of South Africa (BASA), the National Treasury, the South African Reserve Bank and the Financial Services Board have reached an agreement to improve responsible lending and prevent households from being caught in a debt spiral,” the statement, under the names of Pravin Gordhan and BASA CEO Sim Tshabalala, read. “The accord calls for several measures to be taken, including a review of loan affordability assessments, appropriate relief measures for distressed borrowers, reviewing the use of debit orders and limiting the use of garnishee orders.”

Logan told Daily Maverick that there were three key contributors to the “credit bubble”, namely reckless borrowing, reckless lending and the recessionary environment. A fourth contributor, he said, were the materialist values driving people to secure credit for cars, mobile phones and other items at very high interest rates.

“We need to get people to stop buying cars using unsecured personal loans. The banks are giving loans to people for cars, home improvements or home loans that are at 31% or 26% or 28% … This rate is ridiculous and totally unaffordable. The cost of the credit is mad,” Logan said, adding that people needed to look at the total cost of credit they were paying.

Logan said the high rate of credit impairment and unsecured loans was damaging for both the credit market and the consumers caught up in it. “It is very important that the credit system works well so that people can get access to credit, and get credit in a legal format where there are rights and obligations and protections. That people aren’t forced to go to Mashonisas which is undermining our society, and damaging people’s lives.”

“We have to ensure that credit providers implement the National Credit Act because we have one of the best acts in the world. The role of the regulator is really crucial in terms of trying to get this done, and it has been promising for a while now to do this.”

While the credit industry needs work, another problem is the financial literacy of consumers. Thandiwe Zulu, the provincial director Gauteng of the Black Sash, which helps counsel consumers with credit problems, said education was crucial to forging a sustainable solution to this country’s credit crisis. “There have been talks of credit amnesties, and this could remove the problem, but what needs to be tackled is the cause. The cause could be that people don’t know how to budget or manage their income, and then they succumb to debt and land in an even bigger problem. We need financial literacy and education that causes a change in people’s behaviour. We need to deal with the causes so that people manage their finances in an adequate way so that they don’t land in difficult situations that make survival impossible,” Zulu said.

But like most of this country’s problems, the challenge of the credit crisis is extremely complex. The high unemployment rate has created households where extended families are dependent on one or two people’s salaries; inflation and the high cost of living makes survival difficult; and those already caught in the debt trap seem to be falling through the floor.

Add the frustrations of incompetent local municipalities, and a national government that’s over-promising and under-delivering in spectacular fashion and you don’t need a political scientist to tell you South Africa’s become a pressure cooker on a very hot stove. And that all the loan sharks are doing is turning up the heat.

Makause: The activist’s fear of the police and the sunset

Makause: The activist’s fear of the police and the sunset

As you read this, General Alfred Moyo, an activist from Makause informal settlement, is hopefully still alive. He spends days in worry and nights in fear for his life. His harassers: the Primrose station police. His crime: standing up for Makause residents’ human rights. By MANDY DE WAAL.

General Alfred Moyo, a community activist from Makause in Primrose, Germiston, who was arrested by police on Friday 19 October 2012 and released on bail a day later, has fled the informal settlement. “I fear for my life. I don’t know what is going to happen. I am stressed and I am scared. I am uncomfortable during the day, but at night I just get scared.”

Moyo was arrested while holding a community meeting on an open sports field. “The police can do anything. They can even hire people inside the settlement to get rid of me. The community has seen everything and they can tell about everything that happened, so the only chance for the police now is to pay someone else to kill me.”

The “everything” happened on Friday afternoon, when Moyo was meeting with community members to discuss what to do when an on-again, off-again march to protest against Primrose police was cancelled a day after it had been approved.

The community has been trying since mid-September to gain permission from local authorities to march in protest against police brutality and the police’s alleged refusal to investigate residents’ cases, but have been thwarted at every turn. The march was given a verbal go-ahead by Metro police on 17 October, only to be banned by the Primrose police station the next day.

“Everyone had been mobilised and the pamphlets were distributed so we decided to have a mass meeting to address the community and discuss a way forward,” Moyo said, adding that the police arrived shortly afterward.

“We told the police we were discussing alternatives to the march and had decided to picket the station. But the police said we couldn’t have a picket there. They said the station was a sensitive area that they must protect it at all costs.” Moyo replied that he was well versed with section 17 of the Constitution and the right to picket or demonstrate.

He said police had been called in from as far as Springs and the surrounding catchment area to ensure the march did not go ahead. The Makause activist was then told to go with police to the station to talk to the station commander. Moyo and a handful of community leaders were negotiating with police when Nikki Pingo, a project manager for an NGO called Planact arrived on the scene. (Planact runs regular development, learning and support meetings for community representatives and civic movements.)

“General and a couple of others were speaking to the police. There were about three police vans parked at the edge of the sports field. Another police van arrived,” she said.

The police again told Moyo to go to the station to speak to the station commander, Lt-Col Thembi Nkhwashu.

Moyo and the Makause leaders were negotiating with police when an armoured police vehicle arrived. Law enforcement officers exited and pulled the community activist into the vehicle. The Makause members moved forward marginally, and Pingo said a policeman threatened the crowd. “The policemen pulled out a gun and pointed it at the crowd. He then threw teargas into the crowd and it dispersed.”

Earlier this month, Daily Maverick reported that the Makause community leader was verbally attacked and threatened by the police, who asked him why he wanted to bring the force into ill repute.

“The head of visible policing, Col Rackson Shuburi, asked us why we were applying to march against the police. ‘What is wrong with you that you want to challenge the code of conduct of the SAPS?’ he asked us. We told him our memorandum would list all our grievances,” Moyo said at the time. “Shuburi warned me that if we went ahead with the march there would be ‘another Marikana’. He was referring directly to the events at Marikana where the police shot and killed all those protesting miners. He said that the police were ready for us and that if we marched, Makause would be turned into another Marikana.”

The police drove away with Moyo in the Casspir. “We followed the police to the station to find out why General was taken, and when we got there General was taking off his belt, and said he had been arrested. The station commander was very angry with us and said we must leave the police station,” Pingo said, adding that she left the station to call the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri), a non-profit rights-based organisation that has a public-interest law centre.

Moyo told Daily Maverick that when he arrived at the Primrose police station the station commander was in the boardroom with brigadiers and regional heads of police. He was called into the room. “I did not know the others. The only one I recognised was (Gauteng Provincial Commissioner Lt Gen Mzwandile) Petros.

“The station commander pointed to me and said: ‘This is the problematic General’. The police brigadiers said that the lady, the station commander, she must deal with me in her own way,” Moyo said. “I was then charged with intimidation because she said that I had intimidated her.”

A handful of people from Makause had gathered and were now standing outside the station. Nkhwashu picked out a young man and woman who were both wearing T-shirts in support of those slain in the Marikana massacre from the crowd. The T-shirts read: “Women demand justice for Marikana” and “Solidarity for the slain of Marikana”, as well as “An injury to one is an injury to all”.

“I went in to try and go to the bathroom to get water when I saw the two people were arrested,” Pingo said. The pair had been stripped of their Marikana T-shirts and forced to stand half naked in the station. As one, a shy woman, tried to cover her torso with a blanket, a policeman at the Primrose police station was alleged to have chipped in: “I don’t know why that woman is acting so shy. It is in our culture, it is natural to show breasts.”

Pingo challenged the station commander, asking why the pair had been arrested and exclaimed it was unacceptable that the young woman had been made to stand exposed. “She (Nkhwashu) told me to get out of the police station,” said Pingo.

There was another brief exchange in which Nkhwashu threatened to arrest Pingo, who then tried to run out the station. As Pingo exited the station, Nkhwashu ordered that she be arrested.

The police took the Marikana T-shirts saying that these would form evidence for a charge of incitement to cause violence. “They took my phones, my camera and my memory stick,” said Moyo. “They said they will make sure they will bring charges against me because they are in power. They can implicate me with anything to ensure I don’t get out and that I don’t even get bail”

As the charge sheets were being filled out Moyo said police listed his address as “no fixed address” and declared that he had no relatives so that he and the other Makause residents wouldn’t get bail.

Moyo, Pingo and the two other Makause residents were detained overnight because police said they couldn’t get a public prosecutor out on a Friday night. Charges levelled against the four include harassment, intimidation, malicious damage to property, resisting arrest and obstructing the police.

Seri obtained expert legal assistance, and the next day the four were released on bail of R1,000 each. “The police told the lawyer that we were all charged with public violence because this charge requires a prosecutor to get bail. With the other charges they wouldn’t need a public prosecutor, and so we had to stay overnight, ” says General.

The four appeared in the Germiston magistrates’ court on 22 October and waited some three hours for the dockets to be brought from the Primrose police station. After a short hearing, the case was postponed until 19 November.

“The charges are baseless, there is no evidence and it is shocking that the prosecutor is allowing police to go ahead with an investigation into these charges,” said Kate Tissington, a senior research and advocacy officer at Seri. “We’ve seen this before with activists. It is a common police tactic to try and crush activists, to tie them up in the legal system. To beat the fight out of them. The other thing is who can pay bail? So people just sit.”

Moyo is out, but no longer sleeps in the community at night because he fears for his life. His life now is about trying to find a place to stay while shuffling back and forth to try and support the community at Makause.

Daily Maverick called Nkhwashu, but she refused to speak to the media and referred the story to an SAPS spokesperson. The spokesperson, Col Mogale, said questions must be submitted by email and that it would take 24 hours to respond, outside of Daily Maverick’s deadline.