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Cape Town - Treatment Action Campaign founder Zackie Achmat and 20 other activists were arrested by police and held for several hours before being released late on Wednesday night.
They were arrested outside mayor Patricia de Lille’s offices at the Cape Town Civic Centre, under the Illegal Gatherings Act, said police spokesman Andre Traut.
They were released on a warning to appear in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on September 18, said Social Justice Coalition (SJC) general secretary Phumeza Mlungwana, one of those arrested.
Earlier, 15 SJC activists had chained themselves to railings outside the centre, refusing to budge until the mayor spoke to them about sanitation problems in Khayelitsha, but she did not.
The 15 in a group of 21 sang and waved placards with slogans including, “No more false promises, Mayor De Lille”.
Mlungwana said: “It is not like us to act like this, but she needs to acknowledge there is an urgency and give out clearer recommendations about how sanitation will be fixed.”
The city and the SJC have been at loggerheads over the provision of sanitation in informal settlements and about the way the city has monitored companies contracted to supply and clean chemical toilets.
“I am from Khayelitsha,” said Mlungwana. “There are many health issues with the toilets - they are unhygienic.”
Achmat, part of the SJC secretariat, said De Lille had been given enough time for a programme to improve sanitation.
“She has delayed too often. All us here are prepared to come back and get arrested,” he said.
Around noon, metro police and SAPS officers told the protesters they had to move. When they refused, they were again asked.
When they again refused, police cut the chain connecting the group to the railings and arrested them.
They were taken to the Cape Town Central police station.
De Lille described the protest as a “publicity stunt” which “smacks of grandstanding”. She said the city had provided the SJC with the documents they had requested about sanitation.
She said the coalition had not responded to an offer to meet on October 8 or 17.
“This makes a mockery of the claims of a lack of engagement by the city.”
The SJC said the October dates were too late, as it was “extremely urgent” to improve sanitation.
“Despite a phone call requesting an earlier meeting due to the urgency of the matter, we were informed that this would not be possible,” said the organisation.
Mhlungwana rejected as “sad” De Lille’s remark of a publicity stunt.
“We’ve got nothing to gain from a publicity stunt. The mayor must acknowledge the problem. Sanitation problems continue and we feel it has become too much to bear,” she said.
Mhlungwana said there were 10 women among those arrested.
“Police have to do their work and we are not against them, but we don’t regret what we did and we’ll persist with this campaign,” she said.