Private Security Firm Attacks the Sihlalangenkani Occupation in Umhlali

17 April 2024
Abahlali baseMjondolo press statement

Private Security Firm Attacks the Sihlalangenkani Occupation in Umhlali

On 7 April the notorious private security firm IPSS, with support from the SAPS, launched an attack on the Sihlalangenkani Occupation in Umhlali, on the North Coast. The occupation is affiliated to our movement. The attack was unlawful and violent.

People’s doors were kicked in and people were assaulted, insulted, and threatened by men wielding automatic weapons. Many people were kicked, including women. The police fired rubber bullets at the residents. Money was also stolen. People who tried to film the attack were threatened. The police boasted that they have been instructed by police minister Bheki Cele to shoot and kill. The residents were dehumanised and the whole community criminalised.

The residents of Sihlalangenkani refused to accept that they were now being policed by a private security company hired by the rich, demanded to know why they were under attack from a private security company, and why this company was taking over the work of the police. They successfully resisted the attack. After this they moved to the Umhlali police station where they protested against the attack and demanded to know why IPSS Security was now doing the work of the police. The IPSS website shows that the company is actively involved in “thwarting land invasions”.

In terms of the law the actions of IPSS and the police were unlawful and criminal but of course IPSS Security and the police will be treated as if they are above the law and poor black people are always treated as if we are beneath the law. Our mere presence on this land in an elite area is taken as a crime, a crime that legitimates unlawful and violent behaviour from IPSS Security and the police.

The real ‘crime’ of the Sihlalangenkani residents is that they have occupied and held ‘prime land’, land where very rich people, most of them white, live in gated communities.

On Friday 12 April the police returned to the community and arrested Fezile Gosa and Bongeka Gazu, the chairperson and deputy chairperson of the Abahlali baseMjondolo branch. Bongeka is pregnant and was kept in very bad conditions while she was under arrest. These were obviously political targeted arrests.

The community protested against the arrests while they were being carried out and then again outside the police station. Fezile and Bongeka were released on Monday. Their case was not even placed on the role in the court as there was no evidence against them and no case to make against them. Our lawyers expressed their shock at the conditions under which the Deputy Chairperson was detained.

We note that in both of the media reports in Independent Online on the attack on Sihlalangenkani and the arrests of the community leaders only IPSS Security and the police are quoted. Not a single resident of Sihlalangenkani is given an opportunity to speak in either of the two articles. We also not that both articles contain statements that are not true. Perhaps the most important of these is the claim that residents fired on IPSS Security and the police.

Both articles take the statements from IPSS security and the police as fact despite the long and well known history of both the police and security companies lying to the media after they have committed violence against poor black people, including murder.

We would like to remind the media that  after the police murders of Nqobile Ngcobo in 2013 and Zamekile Shangase in 2021 the media uncritically repeated false claims by the police that they had had to open fire while under attack as if these claims were true. In the case of the murder of Zamekile Shangase the police claimed that they were “coming under fire from all sides” when, as was later shown, no shots were fired at them. In both cases the media did not ask eyewitnesses for comment or ask for comments from the communities that had come under police attack or from our movement. In both cases they did not withdraw or correct their articles when the facts came to light, or even make an apology.

We would like to thank the lawyers from the Right to Protest for representing our comrades in the KwaDukuza Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

Our comrades spent three days in police cells for the ‘crime’ of being elected leaders of the residents of a land occupation. The ‘crime’ of the residents of the occupation is being poor and black and residing on land near to where very rich people live.

Thapelo Mohapi 084 576 5117
Mqapheli Bonono 073 067 3274
Snenhlanhla Mcanyana 073 832 3331