Cape Town - Police officers at the Lwandle evictions in Cape Town last month were carrying out their constitutional and statutory obligation to uphold public order, their advocate said on Friday.
Advocate Ncumisa Mayosi, instructed by the state attorney on behalf of the SA Police Service, said their role was strictly in accordance with the assistance requested by the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral).
She said the Sheriff of the High Court had approached the public order policing (Pop) unit to help him enforce and carry out an urgent court interdict granted to Sanral in January to keep people off the road reserve.
“In executing that assistance, the conduct of SAPS members involved fell in line with the obligation to maintain public order, to protect and secure the persons present and to uphold and enforce the law.”
She was addressing members of an inquiry, set up by Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, to probe the circumstances of removals of people and structures off the land on June 2 and 3.
Mayosi was accompanied by the operational commander for June 2, Lt-Col Jimmy Lucas, and two officers who had taken video footage of the events that unfolded at that time.
The inquiry was handed 19 CDs of the footage from June and of previous evictions on the land in February.
Last week, affected residents told the inquiry how they had been mistreated and assaulted by police officers during the removals. There were also allegations that live rounds of ammunition were used to disperse the crowd.
Residents claimed they had done nothing to provoke these attacks.
Mayosi's version of events differed considerably and she said the Pop unit had gone into the area with information to suggest they would be met with violence.
As per national instruction requirements, members went in armed with body armour, a hamlet with gas mask and filter, tear gas and stun grenades and a shotgun.
“The Pop police unit was issued with rubber bullets. No live bullets were issued for use on that day or the following day,” she said.
Lucas assessed the situation on the first day (June 2) as dangerous.
“Pop unit members were confronted by angry residents throwing bricks, petrol bombs, blocking entrances to the area with tree stumps, huge drainage pipes and other materials,” she said.
Two unit members were injured.
Residents were warned in English and Xhosa to desist and disperse but they allegedly continued to throw items.
Mayosi said Lucas instructed his unit to “stabilise” the area and used shields, a water cannon, tear gas and other “crowd management manoeuvres” to maintain public order.
Six people were arrested for public violence and 80 structures were removed by the Sheriff.
On June 3, road entrances were again blocked with burning tyres and other items.
“Approximately 80 protesters were armed with sticks, knobkerries and pickaxes.”
Mayosi said they ignored instructions to disperse and threw stones.
Residents set six structures alight and a woman was arrested for arson. Four people were arrested for public violence.
She said 107 structures were demolished and 81 structures removed by the contractor.