Urasha Ramsunker is one of the victims of the recent water protests, after being shot near the mouth by a rubber bullet, allegedly fired by police.
Her neighbour, Michelle Chelliah-Singh, an asthmatic, was also shot in the leg and she had to run for her life after police allegedly sprayed tear-gas on the crowd.
The protests, held at all entrance and exit points in Phoenix, came to a head when the police allegedly fired rubber bullets and sprayed teargas in an attempt to disperse the protesters.
Both the women and their families were protesting at the Trade Centre Intersection. They were injured while walking past another protest point on the Phoenix Highway.
“We were protesting peacefully with placards. We were using only our voices,” said Chelliah-Singh.
She was with her husband Vijesh. They both run a non-profit organisation called the Love Light Care Foundation.
“SAPS members and metro police were present at the time. A senior, male police officer, who was standing next to me, made the call to the Public Order Policing (POP) unit for backup even though everyone was protesting peacefully.”
Chelliah-Singh said when the POP unit arrived, things turned violent.
“They tried to remove us from the Trade Centre Intersection by spraying tear-gas and pepper spray. They also fired rubber bullets into the crowd of protesters.”
She claimed the protesters were provoked and intimidated by aggressive police officers, using shields and brutal force on them.
“The majority of the police officers were intimidating the protesters. A young man in front of me was hit with the shield on his mouth, and his front tooth broke.”
She said the crowds that were on Phoenix Highway were being pushed further up towards Eastbury by the police and metro officers.
“It was at this point that we decided - myself, my husband and five other neighbours - that we would call it a day and make our way back home. We walked up the Phoenix Highway heading back home to Unit 7. This was the only route back.”
Chelliah-Singh said as they approached the corner of Eastbury Drive and Phoenix Highway, they were met by another group of protesters.
She said the protesters were being held back by police officers with shields.
“It was at this point that a blue vehicle stopped at the traffic light next to us. The young man then switched his car off. Police officers started banging at his vehicle. The young man panicked and started to drive off but was met by another group of officers and he stopped his vehicle.”
She said two male officers started banging on the car door and windows, asking the young man to get out of his vehicle.
“Once he opened the door, he was forcibly dragged out of the vehicle onto the tarred road. The crowd started shouting at the top of their voices for the police officers to stop what they were doing. Suddenly, a teargas canister was thrown towards us, landing at my feet. My husband screamed for us to run and he headed down Eastbury Drive.
“I gasped for air as I tried to run. Within seconds, rubber bullets were fired. As I was trying to run down Eastbury Drive, there was a stampede as young children and others, who were innocent bystanders, fled for their lives,” said Chelliah-Singh.
She said she was struck by a rubber bullet in the back of her knee on her right leg.
“It missed my main artery and nerves by centimetres. I continued running towards my husband, who was screaming for me from the on-ramp to the Shell garage.”
She said it was only at this point that she screamed out that she was shot because she felt the heat of the rubber bullet on her leg.
“A kind gentleman who was watching the protest from the top of the garage, saw what happened and offered to take us home in his vehicle,” she said.
When she got home, Chelliah-Singh said her husband called the paramedics and she was taken to hospital.
“I suffer from asthma and ever since I inhaled the teargas, I have had difficulty breathing.”
Urasha Ramsunker and her son Sasheen were walking with Chelliah-Singh.
“We were just walking home. My son was in front of me. Then teargas was thrown and rubber bullets were fired at us. I could not see anything and it felt like I was in a war zone. At that moment, I felt a sting on my face and felt something fall into my hand. I did not know what it was,” said Ramsunker.
She then saw blood flowing from her face.
“I was in shock and my whole body went numb. I remember Sasheen putting his arms around me.”
Sasheen said when the rubber bullets were fired, he turned around to look for his mother.
“There was teargas all around us. I pulled her toward me to cover her and then I saw her face covered in blood. She was shot near her mouth. The wound had opened up like a flower that had blossomed. The flesh around her mouth was hanging out. I was scared because she is anaemic and diabetic. She was losing a lot of blood.”
Sasheen said a paramedic who was nearby helped them.
“We took my mother to hospital. She underwent surgery and was discharged last Wednesday.”
Ramsunker said she was still in a lot of pain.
“I cannot eat any solid food. Everything has to be mashed or liquidised. My teeth feel loose and it is difficult to brush. All we wanted was for our water to be restored. Currently, we are getting an intermittent water supply or sometimes no water at all.”
Sasheen added that it was wrong for the police to use such brutal force on the community.
“We just wanted our cries for water to be heard.”
Chelliah-Singh and Ramsunker have opened cases of attempted murder at the Phoenix Police Station.
The police did not comment by the time of publication.