The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is holding a hearing at Knysna on the Garden Route following a number of complaints by communities of alleged brutality from law enforcement officials and security companies.
The hearing stems from recent incidents in Knysna.
The provincial hearing is a platform for the complainants and those making presentations to share their experiences before the SAHRC will make recommendations.
In September 2020, the Red Ants were sent by the municipality to Hornlee to remove illegal structures. The community retaliated, and the ensuing riots resulted in a number of injuries, including a person losing their eye after being shot by a rubber bullet.
Ralph Stander from the Knysna United Community Organisation says the municipality and Red Ants acted unlawfully, as there was no court order for breaking down the structures.
“One of the major issues was the issue of the red ants and also the Knysna municipality and how they shot our people and evicted people and broke people’s houses down. We tried everything, we went to the police, and we went here and there, everywhere. Fortunately for us, the human rights commission listened to the plight of the people,” says Stander.
The Knysna Municipality admitted that it should have conducted more thorough assessments before dispatching the Red Ants. It was also reported that police are not always notified of planned evictions that turn violent – and have to deal with the aftermath of riots and blocked roads.
Another incident involves the Red Ants removing homeless people from the streets of the CBD, where they were allegedly manhandled and assaulted.
Knysna Mayor, Levael Davis says they are planning to create a shelter where homeless people will also be taught skills to find employment.
“We are looking at building a shelter, but not a normal shelter, but a shelter for the development of our homeless residents. Council has resolved to do this and we are following the necessary processes to ensure we get this in place. We also want to connect and reconnect with stakeholders so that we can make this possible. As a municipality we have to make sure we’re assisting people to get that value and that dignity,” says Davis.
South African Human Rights Commissioner, Chris Nissen says they have noted a systemic issue in the manner in which law enforcement and private security companies conduct themselves during evictions of unlawful occupiers and interactions with homeless people in the province.
“What we’re doing basically here is to listen to the people because we’re in an independent, impartial organisation. To listen to them, gather all the facts, make the proper assessment, and make the proper investigation. Out of it will be a draft report, which we’ll share with both complainants and those making presentations here. And eventually, come out with a report in which there will be certain recommendations emanating from this hearing,” Nissen explains.
The Commission plans to hold similar hearings in Cape Town soon.