SHAUN SMILLIE AND ANGELIQUE SERRAO
POLICE fired rubber bullets at a crowd of Democratic Republic of Congo nationals gathered outside Luthuli House in Joburg yesterday, after the protesters had indecently exposed themselves and refused to disperse.
The crowd of about 200 gathered in President Street, carrying placards and handing out cards that bore a photograph of a DRC opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi.
They had gathered because they felt recent elections in the DRC had been rigged. Some protesters threw pieces of paper in the air while others exposed themselves to the police.
When the crowd refused to move to Beyers Naudé Square, police threw two teargas canisters at the crowd and began firing rubber bullets.
As the protesters scattered, police officers moved in, some kicking and hitting. One SAPS official struck a middle-aged woman, the blow sending her to the ground. “Go back to your own country,” he said.
Staff members from Luthuli House joined in, hitting protesters as they ran past.
One man ran out of the ANC headquarters, punched a protester and darted back into the building.
In another incident, personnel from Luthuli House manhandled a photographer from The Star, Ihsaan Haffejee. He was grabbed by his shirt, and they threatened to take his camera. They also demanded to know if he was a foreigner.
Police chased the crowd across Beyers Naudé Square, continuing to fire, while the protesters threw rocks.
After the shooting had died down, protesters carried one of the injured towards the police line. Another man with the group walked up to the police and, tapping his chest, told them to shoot the man. One policeman fired warning shots into the ground. When the protesters did not disperse, police opened fire.
They shot at the injured man as he lay on the ground, grabbed him and arrested him.
SAPS spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Tshisikhawe Ndou said police had detained 11 people. “They were arrested for public violence and because they exposed themselves in public,” he said.
John Kabeya, one of the crowd, asked: “Why are the police doing this?”
Several of the crowd showed off bloody marks left by rubber bullets. No one was seriously injured, according to the police.
After the shooting, some of the protesters said they had gathered as they believed the DRC elections had been rigged and that President Joseph Kabila would retain power.
“We want Kabila to go, we are tired of this government and we want to go back home,” Kabeya said.
The protesters accused President Jacob Zuma of supporting Kabila, saying Zuma’s family has financial interests in the DRC. “Zuma is behind Kabila, Zuma supports crime in my country,” Donald Birindwa said.
The leaders of the protest handed over a memorandum of demands to Luthuli House calling on SA to pressure the DRC government not to publish what the protesters referred to as the “fraudulent publication of the phantom provisional results”.
It also called for action to be taken against any South African company taking part in fraudulent activity in the DRC.
By late afternoon, the crowd began to disperse.
There were other protests involving DRC nationals. In Pretoria, police arrested four people at the DRC Embassy for malicious damage to property.
In Cape Town, a group gathered at the Western Cape Legislature, calling on Premier Helen Zille to assist them to “liberate” their country.