Minister of Police to pay damages to Abahlali members for police brutality

22 April 2013
Issued by:

Abahlali baseMjondolo
Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI)

Minister of Police to pay damages to Abahlali members for police brutality

Police ministry agrees to pay damages after police brutality against Abahlali baseMjondolo members in 2006

Today, the Durban High Court ordered the Minister of Police to pay a total of R165 000 in damages to two members of shackdwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo – Sbu Zikode and Philani Zungu – and one resident of the Kennedy Road informal settlement. The order, made by agreement, comes after officers from Sydenham Police Station illegally arrested and assaulted Zungu while he and Zikode were travelling to a radio debate with the then KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Housing, Mike Mabuyakhulu, in September 2006. Other officers from Sydenham Police Station then illegally shot a woman at the Kennedy Road informal settlement. The woman was part of a crowd which had gathered to demonstrate against the arrest of Zikode and Zungu.

SERI, together with Trudie Nichols Attorneys in Durban, represented the three in a trial that took place from 5 to 7 December 2012. The trial was due to continue today, but the Minister of Police agreed to pay damages without taking the trial further.

Zikode and Zungu were stopped by the police on 12 September 2006. Their vehicle was searched. When Zungu asked why he was being searched, a constable from the Sydenham Police Station told him that “a black man is always a suspect”. Zungu was then placed in a headlock and began to suffocate. When Zikode tried to stop Zungu from being strangled, he was assaulted and handcuffed. Both Zikode and Zungu then were arrested and taken to Sydenham Police Station, where they were handcuffed and repeatedly beaten over an extended period by Superintendent Glen Nayager, who has died since the incident.

Ironically, Zikode and Zungu were later charged with crimen injuria, assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. These were later dropped because the Prosecutor thought them so “trivial” as not to warrant a prosecution.

Upon hearing of Zungu and Zikode’s arrest, members of the Kennedy Road informal settlement community gathered at their community hall. They intended to march to Sydenham Police Station to demand that the two men be released. Before they could do so, the Sydenham police officers dispersed the crowd with live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets. There, a woman employed as a domestic worker was shot in the leg while trying to retrieve a cellphone she dropped as she was running away from the police. She was later hospitalised.

According to Bandile Mdlalose, secretary of Abahlali baseMjondolo: “The amount to be paid does not match the crimes the police have committed and continue to commit against ordinary citizens. The issue here is the principle of the case. The dignity of the poor will be realised sooner or later. We know that the police were acting on the instructions of senior politicians. We hope that the police who allow themselves to be used by politicians and abuse their power will soon be out of their jobs.”

According to Teboho Mosikili, SERI director of litigation: “The abuse of power by the police and misuse of the criminal justice system to silence dissent is extremely worrying. It is part of a string of incidents over the last few years in which community-based activists have been targeted by police officers, and the police have shot protesters first, and asked questions later. It is important that the Minister of Police is held accountable for the wanton violence often committed by police officials.”

The Minister will pay the costs of the trial.

Advocates Paul Kennedy SC and Stuart Wilson represented the plaintiffs in court.

Read more on the case here:

Contact details:

Mnikelo Ndabankulu, Abahlali spokesperson: 081 263 3462 /
Teboho Mosikili, SERI director of litigation: 072 248 2199 /