Battlefield Joburg: traders targetted

By Time of article published Jan 13, 2012

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Yusuf Omar

A TAXI driver was dragged into a puddle and ordered to swim because he laughed at a police officer. A woman was pepper-sprayed and beaten with a stick because she wanted to close her shop. And a human rights worker had his phone confiscated and was arrested for taking photographs of a soldier beating a shopkeeper with the butt of his R4 assault rifle.

Parts of Joburg resembled a war zone yesterday as the SA National Defence Force, the SAPS Tactical Response Team and customs officials took part in Operation Festive Season for a second day.

Two army Rooikat trucks stood at both ends of Delvers Street as officers focused their efforts on counterfeit clothing, and shopowners looked on helplessly as their stores were raided and their goods confiscated.

At 10am, a group of taxi drivers standing at a street corner in Jeppe Street were ordered to lie on their bellies and were body-searched.

One snickered under his breath.

“Are you laughing at me? Go for a swim,” shouted a police officer before dragging the driver into a puddle of muddy water on the pavement.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said the taxi driver, dusting off his clothes, too afraid to be named.

Police officers sprayed pepper at curious bystanders, some at close range.

Shops that had closed their shutters received extra attention from the police and army. Using crowbars, they smashed the padlock to open the stores.

Eventually, the fire brigade was called to assist with its Jaws of Life and angle grinder machinery, sending sparks shooting across the pavements.

Around noon, the police used stun grenades to disperse the crowd that had gathered to watch the operation. The explosions echoed through the buildings, sending people running down Bree Street, some leaving their shoes and sandals behind.

A man in crutches couldn’t scurry away fast enough to escape the blast.

“We are living in another apartheid,” screamed a woman as she ran.

“I don’t know why the government are deploying these animals,” said Ethiopian shopowner Tadesse Yemena as he fled. “Stand on the street and you are going to get the beating of your life.”

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