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Wesbank community up in arms over police brutality during Covid-19 lockdown

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Wesbank, home to one the most impoverished communities on the Cape Flats has found the national lockdown period nothing less than dehumanizing. On one hand residents are forced to endure endless days and nights of ever-growing food deprivation and on the other, they are subjected to acts of police brutality without question and certainly without reason.

One of the residents that has experienced the heavy-hand of the South African Police Services (SAPS) is 50-year-old Edward Smith. Smith, an epileptic, found himself being flung into the back of a police van, after being trampled on for merely taking a trip to the local vendor to buy some electricity units.

Smith said even though he had a receipt with him detailing his purchase, to the police that was not enough.

“My friend and I went to buy electricity and on our way back we were stopped by police. They first accosted my friend and then me, by the time they were done kicking and hitting me I had dirtied myself, and was in the middle of having an epileptic fit,” stammered Smith.

But Smith explained that was not the end of the brutality.

“They threw us in the back of the police van, drove us to the R300 and there they continued beating us, so much so that I had succumbed to another epileptic fit. I am extremely distraught with what SAPS has done to me,” said Smith.

Smith was slapped with a R300 fine for allegedly contravening lockdown rgulations.

 

50-year-old Edward Smith holding up his fine

Smith’s girlfriend said when she tried to explain to the officials that Smith had gone to buy electricity, she was met with words of abuse.

“When I came around the bend and saw them [police] beating him, I shouted at them to stop because I saw his legs had turned to jelly and I know that’s what happens when he experiences a fit, but then they hurled swear words at me, and threatened to shoot me,” explained the girlfriend.

An anonymous resident explained that her daughter who is an essential worker was also cussed at whilst returning home from work.

“My daughter came from work and the taxi didn’t drop her in front of the house, so she had to walk a little way before she got home but then police came with a private taxi and they wanted to hit her with a sjambok. She took out her permit and explained she was an essential worker and then they said ‘well then you need to f*%& off to your house’,” explained the resident.

“Is that the way they’re supposed to address us?,” questioned Smith’s girlfriend.

Resident, Mohammed Cassiem Porter said he supports the presidents call to introduce a lockdown but he fervently opposes the way police are manhandling residents.

“I agree with the lockdown but I don’t agree with what the law is doing. It hurts me because on the one hand the law is saying respect women and children don’t abuse them but in the meantime their police officers and army officers are doing the exact opposite,” stated Porter.

Children can be seen playing in the streets of Westbank despite the national lockdown
Children playing in the streets of Wesbank despite national lockdown

Another Wesbank tenant questioned, why the army who are meant to protect citizens have resorted to maltreatment.

“I am very unhappy at the attitude that these police and army members have, they should not be beating people off the streets, they need to ask whoever they find on the street, Why are they there in the first place? They can’t just come and hand out punches and kicks whenever they please, there work is to protect us not to inflict harm,” ended the resident.

However, National Police Minister Bheki Cele encouraged police officers enforcing the lockdown to push South Africans back to their homes if they refuse.

“I hear them (people) crying that cops and soldiers are brutal. Not listening to us is brutality. It’s our duty. If you don’t want to protect yourself and the rest of us, we must start by protecting you … so we need to push a little bit.”

The South African Military Ombud Office said it received 28 complaints to date since the start of the national lockdown.  At least 15 of the complaints are from the public alleging that South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members were using excessive force and physical abuse during their lockdown patrols, while others are from serving members themselves concerning their conditions of service.

VOC News has contacted SAPS for comment on the allegations but they have failed to respond.

 


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