Jo’burg: The trial of Kliptown protestors continues

The trial of Kliptown protestors continues

On the 3rd September 2007 more than twenty comrades were arrested in community protests organized by the Anti Privatisation Forum against the slow or non-delivery of services in Soweto (Kliptown and Protea South). Fourteen comrades were arrested in Protea South though only four of those charged were taken to the Protea Magistrate court on the 4th of September 2007 and the others were released after been held captive for more than 24 hours without any charges being laid. In Kliptown, twelve comrades were arrested for public violence including five juveniles (under-age, school-going children) and have been appearing in court since September 2007. Their next appearance is scheduled for 16 April 2008.

Criminalisation of protest

Public violence ranks as a criminal charge which allows the state to demand higher bail amounts. The Kliptown defendants were all released on R500 bail each. The reason given by the magistrate for his heavy hand was that communities have to be discouraged from taking to the street to demand service delivery while there are other options to ensure their voices are heard. Since he’s been granting the police ever-extra time to ‘investigate’, the trial has not got underway and he doesn’t yet know the lengths to which the Kliptown community has gone to raise their grievances with the municipality and the Department of Housing. On the 14th of August 2007 – less than a month before their arrest – the Kliptown community handed over a petition together with a memorandum to the Eldorado Municipal Offices, demanding the recall of the useless ward councilor and further demanding that the Department of Housing address their housing needs. No response to the memorandum was received from either the municipality or the Housing Department.

The police have been delaying the submission of their evidence to a court of law because it is going to be difficult to hide the facts of their brutality. The school children – who’ve missed more than five days of schooling since September – were arrested while they were crossing the railway line running away from police who were shooting randomly at anyone on the streets of Kliptown (people going to work or children going to school). Fight for your constitutional right to access basic services as a member of a poor community and you are more likely to get a bullet in you back than a roof over your head. If you have something to say, put it in a memorandum to your local ward councilor and pray if that helps you but forget about hearing a response. Ward-councilors don’t call consultative community meetings and they can’t be recalled for non-delivery of services until their term is up in five years.

In the recent People’s Inspection in Kliptown on the 6th of February this year, all relevant stakeholders were called in to come and witness the living conditions of the working class in Kliptown but there was no response from certain organisations including the mayor’s office. This further illustrates that there are issues our government officials find more pressing than addressing community concerns.

Problems with Legal Aid/Assistance

Criminalising protestors makes it more difficult to find free legal representation. In the past, there has been distrust from the community to the use of Legal Aid Board lawyers given experiences where defendants have been effectively forced to submit guilty pleas so that they could get suspended sentences. However, in recent months, through engagements between poor communities organised by the APF and the Legal Aid Board, the relationship with the Legal Aid Board has taken a more positive turn. Nonetheless, securing committed and affordable legal assistance/aid for community members arrested for legitimate social and political protest, remains a huge challenge for organisations of the poor. In this regard, the APF renews its call for progressive lawyers to step up and be counted in the struggle of the poor for their basic rights..

National housing crisis

It is our view that there is a huge backlog in the delivery of houses nationally and this can be witnessed in Durban and in Cape Town where the community of Delft has been evicted to the streets and they are left stranded with the police refusing access to anyone who wants to come and assist (with medical aid or food relief). The APF strongly condemns the police violence against the poor community of Delft, as well as the violence perpetrated by the eThekwini Municipality against the community of Abahlali baseKennedy Road in Durban whose shacks were burned down on the 16th of February 2008. More than fifteen shacks were destroyed by a fire caused by a paraffin stove after the municipality disconnected their electricity supply. A war is being waged against the poor while our country continues to have a budget surplus and poor working class communities get no relief or a better life.

There is no answer to community grievances to be found in the speeches made by ministers, mayors or premiers who are divorced from the realities of people living in Kliptown, Delft and Kennedy Road. These communities demand that police and municipal violence be investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted so that justice can prevail for our people to be set free. While fighting for their constitutional rights, they didn’t violate any other citizens’ rights. The only crimes committed have been by those in authority shooting down the rights of poor people in pursuit of basic services.


For further details please contact Silumko Radebe (APF National Organiser) @ 072 1737 268 or 011 333 8334 or Sipho Jantjie of Kliptown Concerned Residents @ 073 896 1353