Durban - THE eight activists who were arrested last Friday during a protest against the Ikwezi coal mine were released after appearing at the Dannhauser Magistrates Court on Monday morning.
Five of the activists were released with no charges laid against them while the other three were charged with public violence and released on R500 bail each.
Nkanyiso Mthombeni, from the Newcastle Environmental Justice Alliance, said there was video footage of the three activists charged with public violence, apparently showing them throwing stones at police officers.
Mthombeni said the organisation would nevertheless be laying charges of unlawful arrest against the police after one of the protesters was arrested by one of the mine’s security guards.
“When the police arrived on Friday during the protest, they gave us 10 minutes to disperse, after which they decided to use force and shot at us using stun grenades and rubber bullets. The people were peaceful and did not provoke anybody,” said Mthombeni.
On Monday morning, local activists staged a picket outside the Dannhauser Magistrate’s Court demanding the unconditional release of those arrested.
According to environmental justice action organisation groundWork, it was unclear why the police decided to fire rubber bullets as it was a “peaceful protest and this horrible incident took place while community representatives and mine personnel were busy in talks for a suitable venue to engage with the protesters”.
“What happened in Dannhauser cannot be viewed in isolation from the incident that claimed the life of a bystander, Mthokozisi Ntumba, in Braamfontein during a student protest. The police brutality that we keep witnessing is a serious threat to our democracy and the rights of people to protest and express their concerns and views. ”
“While police misconduct and brutality is not acceptable in any way or form, this senseless behaviour seems to be directed or targeted at a specific racial group – black people,” said groundWork director Bobby Peek.
The Abahlali baseMjondolo movement also expressed their “disgust and condemnation” of both the murder of an innocent civilian last week in Johannesburg and “wrongful arrest of the activists”.
“It is an absolute disgrace that when people raise their voices, they are shot and killed. The police have clearly become enemies of society. What kind of freedom and democracy will we say we are celebrating next month when we have this happening everyday in this country?” asked Mqapheli Bonono, Abahlali deputy president.
Mthombeni said they were planning another protest soon as they were not satisfied with the responses from the Ikwezi Mine, who could not reached for comment at the time of publication.