Picture: Kim Ludbrook/EPA
Picture: Kim Ludbrook/EPA

Complaints of brutality by police on the rise amid protests

By Tshego Lepule Time of article published Aug 8, 2020

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Cape Town - As violent protests increase in the Western Cape so too has the number of brutality complaints levelled against law enforcement and police.

The City of Cape Town’s Safety and Security Directorate said between July 11 and August 5, 91 protests were recorded.

The Institute for Security Studies said its protest and public violence monitor recorded 511 protests between March and July 30, of which 33% occurred in the Western Cape.

Complaints of heavy-handedness on the part of police and law enforcement officers during protests has been highlighted by civil society and community leaders who claim officers are leaning more towards brutalising protesters.

In the latest incident, an investigation is under way by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) into the shooting of 9-year-old Leo Williams from Laingville in St Helena Bay, who was shot in the head by a bullet while watching TV in his home last Friday evening.

Already the directorate, which has a history of being under-funded and under-resourced, is dealing with a high number of complaints against the men and women in blue over their conduct during the Covid-19 lockdown.

According to a report released by Ipid to Parliament last month, 286 cases were from the Western Cape, which included 227 complaints of assault, eight deaths as a result of police action and three deaths in police custody. More than 40 cases were completed during the same period .

Right2Know recently held protests at five police stations across the province to call for an end to police brutality.

Their demands called for police to stop using brutality and live ammunition during protests and evictions.

And in Laingville, residents are calling for swift action with a #JusticeforLeo campaign being circulated on social media.

The area has been the scene of chaotic protestation, first over housing and later in relation to the Grade 2 learner’s shooting.

Family spokesperson for the Williams family, Tyrone Williams said, “The mandate we received from the community is that if the officers implicated in this are not suspended and rather community leaders here are arrested as some politicians have been calling for, then this whole protest will start afresh and will be worse than before.

“Leo is currently still in hospital where doctors are monitoring him. The doctors told us were the bullet still lodged in his head to be removed, he would die, so it is a waiting game at this stage.

“But the way the police treated community members was harsh. When the protest began all the community wanted was to hand over a memorandum to the council and then POPs (Public Order Policing) was called in and then it deteriorated from there.”

Several residents in Kalkfontein have also laid criminal cases against law enforcement after they were wounded in clashes following a protest in the area last week.

Police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana confirmed two cases of assault were registered as well as another three of attempted murder.

Nontuthuzelo Thafeni, who was blinded by a rubber bullet in her right eye, said she wants somebody held responsible for her injury.

“I want those responsible to pay for what has happened to me. I lost sight in this right eye after I was shot,” she explained.

“I was not even part of the protests but was at home minding my own business. After the doctors operated on the eye they said there was damage to it and I wouldn’t get to see out of it. Now all it does is tears up.”

Speaking during a Webinar on the prevalence of police brutality, acting deputy director with Lawyers for Human Rights Wayne Ncube said from the hotline they had established during the early weeks of lockdown, they had received 52 calls to report police brutality.

“The reality is lot of the brutality and violence never gets reported. What was telling was that a lot of people still did not know where to lodge complaints against police,” he said.

“Police brutality has become normalised, we see it often with protests and how they are treated. It is something we need to move away from. We see it with the victim blaming in Cape Town

“Inasmuch as we have had legal reform we still have a lot of problematic laws, particularly by-laws that criminalise poverty. As a result we get more calls from Gauteng and Cape Town on these incidents. Basically our laws inform how our law-enforcement treats people when they enforce those laws.”

Spokesperson for Ipid, Ndileka Cola said: "Ipid remains committed to its constitutional mandate of investigating the police, with the limited resources this office does not turn away complainants from this office.

"Complaints are received from various platforms, including acquiring forms on our website, filling in the complaint and sending back via email."

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