Cape Town - A Bishop of the Methodist Church who was present during the second day of the Lwandle evictions offered to help the police defuse the tension, but was “fobbed off”, the ministerial inquiry has heard.
Police were preparing to disperse crowds gathered near the structures that were to be demolished on June 3 when Bishop Michel Hansrod of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa intervened. He offered to help the police calm residents “resistant” to the evictions.
Provincial Public Order Police commander Jimmy Lucas and Captain Daniel Potgieter were quizzed by inquiry members yesterday on whether the police had done enough to avert violence or a stand-off between them and residents. Committee members told the pair that their first priority, according to police national instructions, should have been to prevent a violent stand-off by engaging with residents.
Video footage of a conversation between Hansrod and Andre de Graaf, who was the operational commander in Lucas’s absence on June 3, was shown at the inquiry.
In it, Hansrod asks De Graaf what he and another clergyman from the Methodist Church can do to assist in defusing the tension.
De Graaf answers that the police have been sent there to protect the sheriff of the court and the construction unit hired by Sanral.
“We appreciate that what we are asking is how do we help you mediate so that this is done as humanely as possible,” Hansrod is heard saying.
De Graaf does not provide a response.
Hansrod asks how the evictions can be carried out without violence, considering the resistance from residents. De Graaf replies: “We would have to act.”
Asked what this action would entail, De Graaf refers Hansrod to SAPS media officer André Traut, saying he cannot divulge details of the police’s operational plan.
De Graaf is on leave and could not be questioned at the inquiry yesterday about his role. Inquiry member Mampe Ramotsamai, a former ANC MP, asked Lucas and Potgieter why Hansrod had been referred to Traut instead of officers dealing with the situation on the ground.
“They were… asking you to give them a chance to talk to the people so that we prevent… further violence,” Ramotsamai said.
Inquiry chairman Denzil Potgieter said De Graaf was “fobbing off” Hansrod by referring him to the police media officer.
Nomhle Dambuza said it was strange that the officers did not have a designated negotiator on the scene to defuse the tensions between the police and community.
Potgieter denied that Hansrod had not been given an opportunity to address the residents. The construction team had not arrived at that point and the bishop had enough time to address residents.
“I think he went to speak to the people. If you look at the video you can see he is standing next to the crowd,” Potgieter said.
On June 3, there were clashes between residents and the police. Several shacks were taken down, while others were set alight by their owners.