Durban - The former secretary-general of shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, Bandile Mdlalose, was acquitted this week on a charge of public violence.
“I couldn’t understand at first what was being said. I had tears rolling down my face. It was only when the prosecutor said that I was free to go that I ran out of the dock. It has been joy and pain,” Mdlalose told the Daily News on Thursday.
She said it had been a year of torture for her.
Mdlalose, 27, from KwaMakhutha, near Isipingo, was accused of unlawfully assembling in Cato Manor with 70 to 100 people to disturb the public by placing burning tyres in the roads, throwing objects at the police and obstructing them in the exercise of their duties.
This was during protests in Cato Manor on September 30, when Nqobile Nzuza, 17, was shot dead, allegedly by police.
When her trial began in the Durban Regional Court in June, her advocate, Sarah Jane Linscott, said Mdlalose’s defence would be that she had been trying to keep the peace during the protests and that she had been in the area to sympathise with Nzuza’s family.
Officers of the Public Order Policing Unit had testified for the State.
Captain Prakash Bramdhaw had testified that he had arrived in Cato Manor at 6.30am to relieve the team that 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 also testified that when Nzuza’s body was removed by the mortuary van a protest broke out, involving about 100 people, at the intersection of King Cetshwayo (Jan Smuts) Highway and Vusi Mzimela (Bellair) Road.
He said some of the protesters had thrown bottles, rocks, stones and tree branches at the police.
He said Mdlalose was very vocal with the group and always in front.
The police, he said, asked her to convey a message to the protesters to clear the road so it could be reopened to commuters. He said she agreed, but communicated a different message.
A water cannon and four tear gas canisters were released when the group refused to listen to police and Bramdhaw said he later saw Mdlalose talking to police and then being put in a police van.
Constable Valen Govender said he noticed Mdlalose pick up a rock and throw it on a white Mazda bakkie.
He said he and another police officer then ran up to her and arrested her.
The State closed its case on Wednesday after calling another officer to testify.
Linscott then made an application for the charge to be dismissed on the basis that the State witnesses had contracted each other and were not credible witnesses.
She said there was no evidence of public violence in the video footage the police had taken on the day.
The only evidence that Mdlalose had committed a crime was the allegation that she had thrown a rock at a vehicle, Linscott said.
The magistrate granted the application, thereby acquitting her of the charge.
“The magistrate had said it was clear that I was arrested for being cheeky, but no crime was committed,” said Mdlalose on Thursday.
She said she was thrilled, but found it sad that the people she was supporting on that day abandoned her when she was arrested and during the trial.
Mdlalose said she would continue fighting for the rights of the poor.