Shack dwellers held after clash with police

Available at

September 13 2006 at 10:28AM

Two leaders of the shack dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, were arrested and charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer on Tuesday.

The organisation called the charges “crazy” and claimed that Sbu Zikode and Philani Zungu, the president and deputy president respectively, had been assaulted by police.

As tension over their arrests escalated, gunfire was exchanged between Kennedy Road informal settlement residents and the police.

Sworn at by police
Richard Pithouse, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Civil Development, who is closely aligned to Abahlali, said he had heard from witnesses that Zikode and Zungu had been stopped by police at the settlement as they were about to leave for a radio interview.

“They (Zikode and Zungu) were waiting in a car when police came to them and said the car was stolen. They (Zikode and Zungu) showed the car’s (licence) papers. The police assaulted them and pushed them to the ground,” Pithouse claimed, adding that other people, including Zikode’s wife, had been sworn at by police when they asked to see the pair.

“We have had no access to them and it’s outrageous. One of our members crept up to the (cell) bars and saw them lying on the floor. We haven’t been allowed to get a doctor to see them so we don’t know how badly they have been hurt.”

Police Captain Myentheran Lazarus said police had used “necessary force” to arrest the men, who had been approached on a routine search. “Our Crime Prevention Unit was on a routine patrol when we came across two or three Abahlali members. When the officers attempted to search them, they became violent and assaulted two officers. We used the necessary force to arrest them.”

Lazarus said eight shots had been fired at police during a march to the police station by residents. The police fired rubber bullets.