The Strong Poor & the Police

The Strong Poor & the Police

by Philani Zungu

Abahlali have discovered that when the strong poor speak for ourselves the people who are paid to speak for us, from local councillors, to Mike Sutcliffe and some NGOs and academics, call us criminal. They ignore the fact that it is hundreds of years of crimes against our ancestors that have driven us into the shacks and that even in these shacks the municipality breaks the law when it demolishes our homes. It seems that when ever we want the same rights as other citizens we will be called criminal. Often the powerful people who call us criminal for telling the truth get the police to attack us.

The South African Constitution gives us all the right to gather and to protest and say what we want to say. It is therefore unacceptable that every time there are mass gatherings of the poor and that every time we raise our voices the police are sent to oppress us. The police are sent to break the law and to stop us from marching and from speaking.

In a democratic society the police would exist to maintain the law and to ensure the safety of our communities. The police would be there to ensure our safety when we organise mass gatherings. But when we organise mass gatherings the police are there to make us unsafe! They assault us and shoot at us when they should be protecting us. Police brutality is not the exception. We suffer from illegal police brutality all the time.

On the 3rd of December 2006, the day after Abahlali and the AEC protested together at the SMI, the people of the Siyanda settlement blockaded the Inanda Road to protest against eviction and forced removals. They had a memorandum to hand over to their councillor. Abahlali and AEC were there. Before the councillor could arrive to receive the memorandum he, like so many other councillors, instructed the police officials to act on his behalf. Residents of Siyanda said that one of the police officers told them that they had been personally instructed by the councillor. The same thing has happened in settlements like Kennedy Road and Motala Heights. The councillor for Siyanda instructed the police to attack the people. He said that he would personally love to be there to help.

People were assaulted very badly to the extent that 3 people were admitted to King Edward Hospital and kept their under police guard. One other lady went to hospital on her own. Her situation is still very bad. She was already on strong medication before the police assaulted her so cruelly. According to Ntombi Fikile policemen were even breaking down people’s door to assault them in their own houses. We have also seen this in E-Section, Umlazi where one man was even shot in his own home and in Foreman Road.

Abahlali baseMjondolo counted eleven people who had been badly injured after being assaulted by the police but there were rumours that more people had been hurt and were hiding in case the police came back to hurt them again.

My personal point of view is that as far as Section 205 of the 1993 Regulations of Gatherings Act goes the police in fact committed a crime in Siyanda. Just as they have committed crimes in Foreman Road, in Kennedy Road and in Motala Heights. In all of these places they have disobeyed the constitution of our country. This behaviour needs to be condemned. Serious steps need to be taken against the regular breaking of the law by the police because while they break they law they criminalise us. The police are getting paid for their work on days when they commit these crimes even though they fail to understand that their duty is to the people and the constitution that protects the people and not to the powerful. The police are there to work for us. Abahlali have struggled to make them understand this in some places and will continue to struggle to make the police serve the people. In Umlazi, E-Section, there has been a big success with the arrest of the councillor’s hired assassins. There the police are now protecting the people from the powerful.

Like in other police attacks in other settlements the people in Siyanda lost their cell phones and had the doors to their homes broken. In fact what happened is that they suffered from armed robbery but the armed robbers were the police. Then the victims of the criminal behaviour were charged in court with public violence! It was the police that committed public violence! More than 100 Bahlali have been charged in the last year and a half but every time the charges have been dropped. This is because the police arrest us to intimidate us but never had any evidence against us. For them they use arrest just like tear gas or dogs or bullets. It is just one of their weapons.

Our communities need the South African Police Service to do their job. We want to enjoy our rights and to feel safe. The behaviour of the police is therefore a challenge for Abahlali baseMjondolo, a social movement who loves the poor people and who will defend the poor people. We need to push for a strong campaign to concientise the media, our people and the police about our rights and what the police are really supposed to be doing and who they are really supposed to be working for. All we need to do is to get the police to obey the constitution. When it stops the police from attacking the poor it well be real and it will be strong.

Philani Zungu is the Deputy President of Abahlali baseMjondolo