Cape Town - The commissioners investigating the eviction of about 850 Lwandle residents charge that the police have given them the “runaround” in providing video footage filmed during the evictions.
After a week-long break, the commission was due to hear from the police on Friday about the role the police played over the two days in June when shacks were dismantled on Sanral-owned land in Nomzamo, near Lwandle.
But the hearings came to a quick close when commissioner, advocate Denzil Potgieter, scolded the police for failing to supply documents crucial to their submission – including 19 discs of SAPS video footage of the evictions in June, and earlier in February.
“The inquiry and its secretariat have been engaging with the SAPS over some time in order to obtain the video footage,” Potgieter said on Friday. “I’m informed by the secretariat that as late as yesterday (Thursday) they have been in telephonic contact with the police regarding the video footage that has just not been forthcoming. From what I understand, the secretariat was given the runaround.”
At previous sittings of the inquiry, Nomzamo residents testified about being kicked and shot at by police – something Potgieter said the police would know, given that a SAPS representative was present at the public hearings in Nomzamo last week.
There, one woman claimed the police ripped off her clothes when she tried to stop them arresting her husband, leaving her half-naked. Another said she was hit by a rubber bullet while carrying her two-month-old baby.
But on Friday the police painted an organised and above-board picture of their part in the evictions.
In a submission read out to the commission, advocate Ncumisa Mayosi said the police’s role had to be understood in the context of their obligations, namely restoring order if there was an outbreak of public violence, “as happened in Lwandle”.
“As the SAPS understood the position, the property belonged to Sanral and was occupied by about 150 illegal structures,” said Mayosi. “The sheriff of court of Strand made contact with the SAPS and requested its assistance in executing a court order (to evict the residents). The SAPS anticipated the need for crowd management.”
She said that before the first evictions from the land in February, the police had made it clear they would only help in crowd control and maintaining order, not destroying property.
When the land was re-invaded a few months later, the sheriff called on them again.
The police say that in the three planning meetings leading up to the June incident, they expressed concerns over storing of residents’ furniture, and insisted that Sanral’s contracted security company put measures in place to ensure the land would not be invaded a third time.
“It being the height of winter, the issue of the weather was discussed and whether if it rained evictions would proceed,” said Mayosi. “It was mentioned that no rain was expected on those dates.”
It rained on both days of the eviction.
The police also said they faced roads blocked with logs and burning tyres, and crowds of angry residents throwing bricks, stones and petrol bombs.
Two public order policing unit members were injured, while six members of the public were arrested for public violence on the first day of the evictions, and four on the second. They said the crowds were warned to disperse before teargas, rubber bullets and shields were used to push them back.
“It is submitted to this commission that the role played by the SAPS was strictly in accordance with assistance it was requested to provide,” read Mayosi. “In executing that assistance, the conduct of the SAPS fell in line with its obligation to maintain public order, protect persons and uphold and enforce the law.”
But without the video footage, a “bulky” last-minute affidavit submitted by one of the operational commanders only the day before, and no affidavit from the second operational commander, Potgieter said the inquiry was unable to continue.
He instructed the police to hand over all the outstanding documents and discs, and he postponed proceedings until August 26, when the police are expected to continue their submissions.
The inquiry has until the end of September to wrap up, after Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu granted Potgieter’s request for an extension this week.