Ayanda Kota has Laid a Charge of Assault Against the Police

17 January 2011
Unemployed People’s Movement Press Statement

Ayanda Kota has Laid a Charge of Assault Against the Police

Ayanda Kota was released from custody on Friday afternoon. Bail was set at R500. The judge made it clear that he considered the charge of ‘theft’ for failure to return borrowed books to be ridiculous. Although this was not mentioned in court the fact that Ayanda has repeatedly offered to replace the books in question makes the charge even more ridiculous. The prosecutor did not even have a docket on the charges of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer but he requested more time for ‘further investigation’.

Since his release Ayanda has had the bruises, abrasions and swellings from the assault photographed and he has been to a doctor to complete the J88 form which lists the marks left on his body. The doctor’s finding is that the marks left on his body are consistent with an assault. Yesterday he returned to the Grahamstown police station to lay a charge against the officers that assaulted him on Thursday afternoon last week. Brigadier Govender, the station commander, and the officers in the charge office were very polite and helpful and one of them even remarked that it just takes a few bad police officers to undermine the good work of the others. The case number is 282/1/2012.

We wish to confirm what happened on Thursday. Ayanda was asked to come to the police station to meet Detective Zulu to respond to a charge of theft that was laid against him in August last year by Rhodes Sociology lecturer Claudia Martinez-Mullen after he had misplaced three books that she had lent him – The Communist Manifesto and a selection of writings by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and another one by Antonio Gramsci. He was asked to be at the police station before four in the afternoon and didn’t have time to take his six year old son home as he was coming directly from a meeting at Masifunde. He went to the station voluntarily and asked Richard Pithouse to go with him.

At the police station Ayanda met Detective Zulu and asked to be able to show Zulu sms’s to Martinez-Mullen offering to replace the books. But Zulu was very aggressive and just said that he was taking Ayanda straight to the cells. Ayanda then said, calmly, that if he was going to be taken to the cells then the police must either allow him to phone his sister to collect his son or they must drop his son off with his family before taking him to the cells. At this point Zulu began an unprovoked assault on Ayanda with punches to the head and the body. Ayanda was sitting down at the time while Zulu was standing. Ayanda, still sitting down, threw one punch in defence after receiving three or four blows from Zulu. Other officers then joined the assault. Ayanda was very quickly pushed to the ground and was held down as he was kicked and punched. His trousers were pulled down and he was then dragged out of the room and down the corridor. He was visibly bleeding. There is a camera in this corridor. While Ayanda was being dragged down the corridor he was punched some more and one officer called others to ‘come and see the news maker of the year now’. We are requesting that the video footage from the camera in the corridor should be made public.

As the UPM we wish to thank all those people and organisations who responded to the arrest and the assault with solidarity. Professor Saleem Badat, the Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University, came straight to the police station as soon as he heard the news. Professor Fred Hendricks brought a lawyer and food to the holding cells. Students for Social Justice, the Right to Know Campaign, the Democratic Left Front, Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Mandela Park Backyarders all responded with statements of support. George Kahn represented Ayanda in court. Members of the UPM, the Women’s Social Forum and Students for Social Justice were all in court along with Ben Mafani, the well known activist from Glenmore, and representatives from Masifunde and Jubilee. Bishop Rubin Philip alerted the local Anglicans to the situation from Durban and Rev. Mzi from the Anglican Cathedral here in Grahamstown was in court. There were also a number of Rhodes academics in court. M.P. Giyose from Jubilee paid the bail and Neil Overy photographed Ayanda’s injuries after he was released. We also want to thank the media for their interest in this matter, Amnesty International and all those people who have been advocating in solidarity with Ayanda on Facebook. We especially want to thank Richard Pithouse. Comrade Richard walks the journey of this struggle with us and is always there for us.

Our next step will be to lodge a civil case against the Minister of Safety and Security. We will approach the Socio-Economic Rights Institute in Johannesburg for legal support in this case. Detective Zulu has been successfully sued before and we are confident that this will be the second successful civil case against him.

This is not the first time that Ayanda has been assaulted by the police. Ayanda was beaten and pepper sprayed in a police van after he was arrested for protesting outside the opening of parliament in Cape Town in February 2010. The charges against Ayanda were later dropped.

In February 2011 he and two other activists were arrested as they arrived on the scene of a road blockade in the Phaphamani Squatter Camp here in Grahamstown. They were arrested and handcuffed while other people were shot with rubber bullets. Again the charges were dropped.

This pattern of arrest, often followed by assault, and then charges being dropped after six or seven court appearances is faced by grassroots activists all over the country. All the movements of the poor know it well. It has become normal.

The ANC tries to put across a convincing picture of democracy but the reality is that this democracy is not for everyone. Poor people that ask questions and enter debates are repressed with violence from party structures and the police. We are not only struggling for service delivery. We are also struggling for democracy, for the right to organise.

A lot of people have been asking how Martinez-Mullen could do this to our movement. She wanted to support us at one time. But she became very angry with us saying that “UPM are not Marxists”. We can’t organise our struggle to fit other people’s theories. Our struggle does not exist for Martinez-Mullen or for her theories. It exists for us. It is based our lives, our oppression and our resistance. When there are important issues on the ground we have to respond to those issues. When our members have a strong opinion about a certain matter we have to respect that.

It is well known that Marx himself said that he was not a Marxist. On our understanding Marx was an important thinker in the communist movement and while there are important things that we can learn from Marx we won’t find all the answers to the questions that we face in Marx. Anyway, Marxists are always debating between themselves. We are happy to bring ideas from Marx, Fanon, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Biko and other thinkers into our movement but our movement can never be dictated to in the name of any theory or thinker. Our movement is made up of living human beings and our struggle has to start and end with them and their lives. We will not accept that someone can demand to be a boss over our struggle just because they say that they know Marx. We welcome comrades who want to struggle with us but we will not welcome bosses that want to rule over us. We support what S’bu Zikode calls a living politics – a politics that comes from the ground up, stays close to the lives of the people and is owned and controlled by the people.

We have to speak truth to the left. There is a very damaging sectarianism on the left in South Africa. When people disagree they should be free to debate issues openly but this must done in a context of mutual respect. We can all learn from such discussions. But the sectarians don’t do this. They try to destroy people and movements that don’t accept their rule. They try to character assassinate people and movements. They lie. They even support state repression. Many of them are white people who think that they have a right to dictate to black movements because only they know the right theory. In Durban they became the biggest propagandists for state repression. This left, the left that Abahlali baseMjondolo calls the regressive left, is not a useless left. It is a dangerous left. It has become part of the system that oppresses us. We are very clear about this and we are asking the left in South Africa to take a clear stand against the sectarianism that has done so much damage to our movements.

We note Martinez-Mullen’s recent allegations about UPM and wish to make it clear that we have democratic processes in place – processes that include the election of the leadership and a rotation of responsibilities amongst elected office bearers. The next election is scheduled for March 2012. We note further that neither our members nor our comrades in other movements have ever complained about our democratic processes.

Our struggle continues. We are very pleased to announce that at a meeting between UPM and the Women’s Social Forum (WSF) yesterday we have agreed that from now on the WSF will operate from the UPM offices. We are holding a mass meeting in the Glenmore community hall tomorrow at 5:30 in the afternoon and hope to announce protest actions in support of the Glenmore community and against police brutality and police repression of activists soon. We are committed to working to uniting the struggles of the poor in Grahamstown, the Eastern Cape and across South Africa.


For more information contact:

Siyanda Centwa 078 571 5507
Asanda Ncwadi 071 010 5441