Had the South African Police Services implemented some of the 138 recommendations of an independent experts’ panel following the Marikana massacre on 16 August 2012, it would have been better equipped to deal with current rolling protests across the country.
This is the view of Gareth Newman, researcher at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) in response to a three-hour battle between police and protestors in Mamre in the Western Cape on Monday 27 July 2020.
[Thread]Maverick Citizen freelance journalist Vincent Cruywagen was in Mamre today where he covered the unrest on the West Coast town. Cruywagen had to run for his life when police fired rubber bullets and protestors retaliated with rocks. pic.twitter.com/FYAZLygb5o
— Daily Maverick (@dailymaverick) July 27, 2020
A police sergeant attending to the Mamre protest sustained a head injury after being hit by a stone. Incidents of stone-throwing were also reported on the M5 opposite Parkwood and Grassy Park during which a SAPS vehicle was also damaged.
Residents told the Maverick Citizen they had heeded calls by Gatvol Capetonian leader Fadiel Adams, who is also the leader of the Cape Coloured Congress, to “shut down” the Cape Metro.
Hundreds of people protested and barricaded Silverstream and Old Mamre Roads with burning tyres and debris. This was one of several shutdown protests held in parts of the Cape Metro.
Maverick Citizen freelance journalist Vincent Cruywagen was in Mamre today where he covered the unrest on the West Coast town. Cruywagen had to run for his life when police fired rubber bullets and protestors retaliated with rocks. Full story to be published this evening pic.twitter.com/R423da613Y
— Daily Maverick (@dailymaverick) July 27, 2020
Adams said the aim of the shutdown protest was to demonstrate to the ANC that it had “left the coloured community in the lurch” and was depriving the community of job and housing opportunities.
Police arrived at the scene in Mamre and gave protesters time to disperse before firing rubber bullets. This angered protesters who pelted police with stones.
One resident, Bridget Harmse, claimed police had stormed into a house to arrest a person who was visiting her husband. Several rubber bullets were fired inside the house and cartridges were found all over in the kitchen.
Protesters who had gathered from all over outnumbered about 16 police officers armed with stun grenades, teargas and rubber bullets. Police were also almost lured into a trap and caught in the middle of protesters in Silverstream Road.
While police faced a head-on response, protesters moved to bushes on both sides of the road and attacked from these flanks. A fourth group of protesters attempted to cut off the SAPS members from behind, but this was thwarted.
Police fired rubber bullets and used shields and refuse drums to prevent stones from injuring them.
Police back-pedalled for about 800m while stones from the advancing crowd rained down. At one point a police officer took out his service pistol and fired indiscriminately at the crowd.
Newman said the panel of experts was convened after the report by the Farlam Commission of Inquiry which investigated the Marikana massacre.
Issues under scrutiny included the use of force in public-order policing that needed review. Police are also understaffed and underequipped to deal effectively with large crowds, Newman said.
“The independent panel report of 400 pages and 138 recommendations was handed to the police minister in April 2018. Had some of these recommendations been implemented to deal with protest… police would have been better prepared.
“With Covid-19 lockdown and the high unemployment rate as a result of bad economic conditions, the country could brace itself for more protests,” Newman said.
Every police station is meant to be fully equipped with a designated officer who should deal with communities in an attempt to resolve volatile situations, he added.
The duty of such an officer in the Mamre protest would have been to have spoken to community leaders.
Before police fired rubber bullets, they should have exhausted all avenues of engagement to prevent a violent protest.
Another ISS researcher, Johan Burger, said the police’s inability to deal with large crowds is compounded by the shortage of Public Order Policing (POP) members. There are about 5,000 POP members nationwide.
“The problem is (that) when police officers are deployed to unrest areas there are not enough POP members. At times police, including POP members, don’t have sufficient intelligence on the amount of protesters, (and the) area to plan (an) effective counter-operation,” Burger said.
Adams condemned the police action in Mamre and said that all shutdown protests were called off at 10am on Monday. However, protesters in Mamre were not aware of the call-off until 13:00, while they were still locked in skirmishes with police.
“When people protested on Sunday in Wallacedene, police didn’t fire a single shot. Why did they use force to disperse our supporters? I have asked for an audit on the number of our members arrested,” Adams said.
DA Western Cape spokesperson on Community Safety, Reagen Allen, in condemning the spike in violent public unrest said 30 arrests had been made after a land invasion protest on Sunday, 26 July.
Although the Constitution made provision for protest action, it was vital that this was done in a manner that did not infringe on the rights of fellow citizens, Allen said.
“We need to send out a strong message against these detrimental acts and cannot allow it to further deter governance. The surge and threats of unrest have led to the City of Cape Town having to suspend refuse services scheduled for Monday,” Allen said.
Police spokesperson Novela Potelwa said on Monday that police had kept a watchful eye on specific spots in Cape Town and few outlying areas.
There were reports of small groups protesting in areas of Cloetesville in the Cape Winelands, Mamre, Atlantis and Vredenburg on the West Coast, she said. Sporadic incidents were also reported in Steenberg, Delft, Bishop Lavis, Bellville South and Mitchells Plain.
“After several run-ins between police and protesters in several incidents of public violence on Monday 27 July, police have arrested 25 suspects for a range of crimes including public violence and contravention of parts of the Disaster Management Act,” she said.
Six people were arrested during the Mamre protest. DM/MC
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