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Durban - The former secretary-general of shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, Bandile Mdlalose, has pleaded not guilty to public violence.
At the start of her trial in the Durban Regional Court on Tuesday, her advocate, Sarah Jane Linscott, said Mdlalose’s defence would be that she had been trying to keep the peace during protests in Cato Manor on September 30.
She would also say that she was in the area to sympathise with the family of Nqobile Nzuza, 17, who was shot dead, allegedly by police that day.
Mdlalose, 27, from KwaMakhutha in Isipingo, is accused of unlawfully assembling in Cato Manor with 70 to 100 people to disturb the public by placing burning tyres on the roads, throwing objects at the police and obstructing them in the exercise of their duties.
Captain Prakash Bramdhaw, of the Public Order Policing Unit in Durban, who testified for the State on Tuesday, said he had arrived in Cato Manor at 6.30am to relieve the night shift team who had been trying to calm protests in the area earlier that morning.
He said the main road had been barricaded by protesters. He had gone to Harcombe Gardens Road, near Bellair Road, where Nzuza had allegedly been shot by police.
Bramdhaw testified that when Nzuza’s body was removed by the mortuary van a spontaneous protest broke out, with about 100 people moving back on to the road in Cato Manor, at the intersection of King Cetshwayo (Jan Smuts) Highway and Vusi Mzimela (Bellair) Road.
He said some of the protesters had picked up bottles, rocks, stones and tree branches and were throwing objects at the police.
He claimed Mdlalose was very vocal with the group and always in front. The police, he said, had asked her to convey a message to the protesters to clear the road so it could be reopened to commuters.
“She agreed, but communicated a different message,” Bramdhaw testified.
“She said, ‘The police shot the young lady in the morning and now they are here and want to shoot us’. They listened to her. We also told her this was an illegal protest and they had five minutes to disperse, but she told them not to move away, but to sit on the road.”
The group refused to listen to police and a water canon had to be deployed. The crowd dispersed and while Durban Solid Waste tried to clean the road a group started throwing things at the police and the cleaners, Bramdhaw said.
Three tear gas canisters were fired into the crowd.
When people again attacked the police, another tear gas canister was deployed among nearby shacks and police moved on foot to arrest people.
Bramdhaw said he later saw Mdlalose talking to police and then being put into a police van to be taken to the Cato Manor police station.
His unit had also recorded the morning protests. Stills of this footage was submitted into evidence by the defence.
During cross-examination, Bramdhaw said he did not know the cause of the initial protest, but thought it dealt with housing problems. Linscott said it was about the illegal demolishing of shacks at the informal settlement by the eThekwini municipality.
Bramdhaw admitted the crowd became extremely angry with the police after Nzuza’s death.
Linscott said her instructions were that the crowd was making its way on to Vusi Mzimela Road with the intention of marching to the Cato Manor police station and were forced to turn around by police who had blocked off the road.
Mdlalose had arrived after the shooting to sympathise with the young girl’s family.
“She doesn’t live in the community and neither is she a leader in it,” said Linscott.
Bramdhaw said that day Mdlalose was vocal and constantly made remarks to and about the police such as, “Don’t worry about the police, they just want to shoot us”.
Linscott said her client’s version was that she was not the leader of the protest and was just there to ensure there was peace.
The trial continues.