Cape Town - Police involved in the eviction of people from Lwandle in June may have acted outside of the law and without any regard for the community they were supposed to protect, a ministerial inquiry into the removals has heard.
Members of the public order police who enforced the court order obtained in January by the SA National Road Agency (Sanral), on Tuesday faced a grilling from the inquiry set up by Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to investigate the evictions.
A 20-minute video showed edited footage of the first day of the evictions. Members of the inquiry interrogated the police’s operational plan for the evictions, why the legality of the eviction order was not properly verified, the lack of engagement with the community and the ward councillor and the use of force and pepper spray to manage residents who resisted.
Advocate Denzil Potgieter, who chaired the inquiry, said the police acted on an interim and not a final eviction order, making them “complicit” in flouting the law.
But Lieutenant-Colonel Jimmy Lucas, who was the operational commander for the evictions on June 2, said he had been assured by Sanral that the eviction order was valid.
But inquiry member Annelize van Wyk wanted to know why the police would defer to Sanral’s legal team instead of their own internal legal unit.
“I find it of concern that we keep hearing ‘what does Sanral want from us’ and not ‘what does the law want from us’,” said Van Wyk.
But Lucas said: “I had no reason at all not to believe this was a valid order.”
He added that if he had refused to comply, he would have been brought before the high court for being in contempt of court.
Facing a barrage of questions from the inquiry, Lucas repeatedly defended his team’s actions, saying that the police had an obligation to maintain law and order. Faced with mounting violence from the angry community, the police had acted accordingly.
They also had to protect people living in the nearby formal dwellings.
He added that he had allowed residents to collect personal belongings before the demolished structures were removed. When asked if he would have done anything differently, Lucas said: “I don’t think I would have done anything else.”
The hearings were adjourned until on Thursday so that the operational commander for the second day of evictions could appear before the inquiry.
He was expected to testify on Tuesday, but failed to turn up.
Van Wyk said this was a sign of “ill-discipline” and she demanded that the police appear again before the inquiry. “They’ve got to take responsibility for the operation as a unit.”