SAPS to pay for failure to act against violent strikers
Share this article:
Pretoria - When a crime is imminent and foreseen, it is expected of the police to take action, and they are duty bound to maintain law and order including when called to attend to a strike.
This is according to a judge who ordered the police to pay damages to the owners of a banana farm in Mpumalanga, and to a farm worker, who was stabbed with a broken bottle by a protester.
The amount payable will be determined at a later stage.
The North Gauteng High Court, ruled some of the police officers in Hazyview called to control striking workers at a farm in Umbhaba, had displayed a “don’t care attitude” in the midst of the violence which saw a worker injured, non-striking people being intimidated, and farm buildings and equipment trashed.
The attitude of the SAPS was they either did not know about the strike, or things were not bad when they did respond to calls from the farm.
Acting Judge J Mtati said the community expected the police to act when they were called out. He said the SAPS’ failure to do so resulted in negligent and wrongful conduct.
The problems started when new owners took over the Kiepersol farm, one of three in the Umbhaba group. They mainly grow bananas and instituted a new rule workers had to work on Saturdays.
Unhappy with this, about 300 workers went on strike. The owners heard of the strike a few days before it happened, and informed the police.
Farm manager Dean Plath and a director of Umbhaba, testified that on the first day of the strike a group of disgruntled workers blocked the entrance to the farm and hurled stones at the main building where workers were supposed to pack bananas. They also wielded sticks and intimidated non-striking workers.
After he had phoned the police station numerous times, two junior officials came to the farm and told them to work it out with the union officials.
Plath said although some of the strikers were violent and he was almost hit him with a brick, the police did nothing and eventually left.
Things became more violent on the second day, and video footage taken by the farm management, showed how one of the security guards was hit with a stone in the face.
Plath phoned the police several times and even spoke to the station commander before a few SAPS members arrived. The court was told the police once again did not do anything.
The farm management then turned to the court for an interdict against the protestors, and the SAPS was ordered to take action if the strike continued.
The court was told the strike continued and the police, after being called time and again to assist, still did very little.
Asked why they did not act, the few officers who did testify said the violence was not “so bad”. Others said they were not told about the strike.