Civil society call for the police restraint and de-escalation shown in Nkandla be extended to all protesters.
Civil society organisations and a trade union federation have called for the police to extend the same restraint shown by the police in Nkandla on Sunday and following days to the policing of community protests and strikes by workers. On Sunday, ANC members and supporters of Jacob Zuma, gathered in thousands despite level 4 lockdown regulations prohibiting gatherings. They were there to prevent the police from arresting the former president following the Constitutional Court’s judgement finding him in contempt of court and sentencing him to 15 months in prison.
During an interview with Newzroom Afrika, the provincial commissioner, General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, said that they couldn’t act to disperse the illegal gathering because that would have ‘shifted the focus from the Constitutional Court matter’. On Monday, police minister Bheki Cele commended the police for their restraint because based on the intelligence they received, some of the protesters were armed.
Abahlali baseMjondolo’s deputy president, Mqapheli Bonono, said that it looked to be a failure by the police to enforce the law while the treatment they get from the police is delivered with a heavy hand. “We are shocked and disturbed by what we saw in Nkandla because we get arrested for not wearing masks. It looks like the law only works for some and not all of us. Our democracy cannot be for those with cars that have rear-mounted spare tyre. Whenever we protest for basic services we are always met with police who are heavily armed, ready to shoot at us. In the recent past, we have lost a baby and a teenager due to police brutality during a protest,” said Bonono.
17-year old Nqobile Nzuza was shot at the back by the police and later died during a protest against evictions in Cato Crest in Durban in 2013. Two-week-old Jaden Khoza was killed was during a police assault on the Foreman Road community in Durban in 2017.
The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) also called for the same treatment to be afforded communities when they protests and to workers when they go on strike. The federation stressed that the officers are not themselves responsible for their conduct because they are given orders to take act a certain way. “The police force has been quick to respond with brutalisation at little provocation, and sometimes even without provocation, during protests. But the situation in Nkandla and the restrained approach taken by the police has proven that, ultimately, police act on orders. They did not respond to the most provocative situation in Nkandla not because they were able to read the situation, but because their bosses told them to do so. In a case where their bosses instruct them to clamp down, as they usually tell them to do in protests, they unleash their brute force,” said Saftu spokesperson, Trevor Shaku.
The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) which represented 36 families at the Marikana Commission was similarly scathing of the naked injustice of law enforcement. “Unfortunately, this level of utmost restraint, respect for the rights to life, protest and freedom of expression and the displayed emphasis on de-escalation are not always extended to protesting groups and communities, who are frequently on the receiving end of excessive use of force and other forms of mistreatment by the police,” said Thato Masiangoako, a researcher at SERI.
Police spokesperson, Brigadier Vish Naidoo told Elitsha that they maintain that the police acted correctly and that each situation is assessed on its own merit. “History has taught us that proper situation analysis should be conducted for each situation and any and all responses should be informed by the analysis. Naturally this will differ from situation to situation. In handling all mass gatherings and protests, the prevention of injury and loss of life is fundamentally important. This is what we considered when dealing with the crowds in Nkandla as people there were armed and emotions were visibly running high,” said Naidoo.