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GBV protesters plan a case against police for ‘unjust’ arrests

By Tessa Knight 12 September 2019

Students clash with police at Foreshore during a march demanding justice and protection amid violent attacks on women and children on September 04, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. The national outrage follows the rape and murder of 19-year-old University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

Protesters arrested during Cape Town demonstrations against gender-based violence say they will lay a case against the SAPS for unlawful arrest after charges against them were withdrawn.

After hearing that none of the protesters arrested during last week’s protests would have criminal records, a small group of people dressed in black walked from Cape Town Magistrate’s Court to the Cape Town Central Police Station to get the forms needed to start the process of collecting evidence and formulating a case.

Since the first protesters were arrested on 4 September, legal representatives from the Women’s Legal Centre and Legal Aid SA have worked to clear them of charges of public violence, contravening the Regulation of Gatherings Act, and assault of police officers.

As a result, all of the cases were declared nolle prosequi, meaning that the prosecution opted not to pursue charges against any of the arrested protesters and instead nullified their cases.

Kabelo Manyoga, a candidate attorney with Legal Aid, believes the prosecutor did the right thing:

If they had pursued this case, in light of everything that is happening in South Africa, people would lose confidence in our justice system. There are very serious matters we should be pursuing, this isn’t one of them.”

But according to Thozamile Williams, who took unpaid leave to join the protests and came to support those arrested, the justice system is broken.

Justice has failed every woman in South Africa. The justice system failed Uyinene. The system should change – there need to be new rules and regulations,” Williams told Daily Maverick outside the court.

Us as men, we have failed women.”

Speaking to Daily Maverick outside the central police station, 22-year-old Jordan Pieters alleged she was pepper-sprayed while sitting alone inside a police van after being arrested.

It smells like those strong candies, you know those fireball sweets? Pepper spray smells exactly like those,” said Pieters.

Pieters was charged with assaulting a police officer. She claims she hit an officer on the arm after the officer hit her.

Daily Maverick asked SAPS for comment on the allegations made by Pieters and another protester, but police spokesperson André Traut said no comment would be made before the initiation of a formal investigation.

Both persons are encouraged to lodge their complaints with the management of Cape Town police or Ipid so that an investigation into their claims can be launched,” Traut told Daily Maverick.

But Pieters, a third-year law student, said she has little faith in the justice system. “I know how the IPID system works. It takes years, and the forms we’re going to fill in, they’re just going to be lost under someone’s desk.”

Despite her apprehension, Pieters was given a J88 form from other group members as they walked towards the District Six Clinic. J88 forms are medico-legal forms completed by a doctor or registered nurse, documenting injuries sustained by a victim when a legal case is to follow.

This is an empty victory because we shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place,” said Pieters. “And it all came to nothing.”

Pieters and other protesters present said were not comfortable reporting crimes at police stations and often feel like criminals when they enter a station.

We don’t see the point in going to police stations any more, because police stations are such traumatic places. It’s like they made a place that’s supposed to be a safe haven into a hell,” said Pieters.

Pieters is worried that South Africa reacted after Uyinene Mrwetyana’s death, protested and then forgot. She wants people to start actively organising to fight back against gender-based violence, rather than listen to politicians talk.

In a televised speech on 5 September, after being called from the World Economic Forum to address thousands of protesters against gender-based violence outside Parliament earlier in the day, President Cyril Ramaphosa promised to overhaul the National Register of Offenders. The list will include “all the men convicted of acts of violence against women and children”, and Parliament will be charged with ensuring the register is available to the public.

Ramaphosa also told the nation he would propose to Cabinet that harsher minimum sentences be imposed on anyone who commits crimes against women and children, and agreed that the State should oppose bail for people accused of raping and murdering women and children.

A life sentence must mean a man who perpetrates rape and murder is in prison for life,” he said. But protesters arrested only hours before were not able to watch the president promise to make changes in courts and in Parliament to protect women and children.

As one of the arrested group members, Cindy Myshotwana said: “The fight continues.” DM

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