Unfreedom Day Land Occupation: Police assault activists| by Camilla Rose Coutts

by Apr 29, 2013All Articles

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On 27 April 2013 Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), the largest organisation of the militant poor in post-apartheid South Africa, established in Durban in 2005. Released a press statement entitled “Marikana: A New Land Occupation Founded on UnFreedom Day 2013.”

The statement says: “Members of Abahlali baseMjondolo of the Western Cape have occupied a piece of vacant land in Philippi, Cape Town. Shacks have been built and families have moved in to their new homes. The new land occupation has been called ‘Marikana’. We call it Marikana because our sisters and brothers organised themselves there and some of our brothers died there and we too are organising ourselves peacefully and are willing to die for our struggle.

We are the community of Philippi East. Most of us are unemployed and don’t have a place to stay. That is why we decided to reclaim this vacant and unused land and to make it a place for people to stay.

The DA has a record of violently imposing unlawful and unconstitutional evictions on the poor in Cape Town. The law of the land states clearly that no one can be evicted from their home without an order of the court. Sheldon Magardie, the Director of the Legal Resources Centre in Cape Town, has explained this clearly: http://westcapenews.com/?p=2960

If the DA tries to evict these families without a court order their action will be unconstitutional and criminal. We will use legal procedures and collective action to protect ourselves against any unlawful eviction.

The state is failing to resolve the housing crisis. Therefore it is necessary for the poor to take matters into our own hands. It is up to us to win our own freedom.”

I arrived at Marikana, Philippi close to 11am this morning. There was a heavy police presence, some 500metres up the road from the newly built area, Marikana. Six police vehicles, bakkies and riot vans, and a Casper. Police are dressed with protected padding and riot helmets.

I ask an officer “What is going on?”

“Nothing,” he says, “Why would you ask?”

“Because there are an awful lot of police vans.” I say.

Another officer walks up to me. He asks if I am media. I tell him I am not. He points at my camera.

“Is that a camera?”

“Yes, it is a camera.”

“Then you are media.”

“I do not work for any publication. I am on not media.”

“What are you?”

“I am a student.”

“You shouldn’t be here. It is dangerous.” He says.

“Why would it be dangerous, if nothing is happening?”

“You don’t want people to start throwing stones.”

At Marikana the residents stand huddled in a group. Cindy, Abahlali baseMjondolo’s Cape Town representative explains that the residents had put the shacks up the previous week. And they had been demolished.

The residents had lived in the bush until they found materials to rebuild.

Cindy explains that law enforcers came this morning and put crosses on the shacks. When residents asked why they are planning to demolish this side and not that side – indicating the still new but more established shacks on the same land that had also gone through several demolitions.

The law enforcers had said they were different, those shacks had been there quite long but their shacks were new. They did not present a court order, and could not give residents a person to contact.

Residents were told to remove the contents of their shacks, or the shacks would be demolished with their possessions inside.

Cindy says, “When residents asked for protection [from the police against law enforcers] they say they are also here to protect the law enforcement, and we ask the cops to ask them if they do have a court order. They [the police] say they don’t have a court order.”

We are told that Law Enforcement will arrive in five minutes to start the removal.

A police bakkie filled with men in yellow vests, a truck and the Casper. The men in the bakkie are wielding iron rods or crow bars; they are not close enough to tell.

An eye witness, AbM supporter, later states that, “Ten out of twelve shacks were demolished, a young lady was shot twice with rubber bullets, and some other people had minor assault injuries.

Police assaulted residents. Two people were arrested, one was a resident and the other an AbM activist called Tumi.

They were released around 8pm on bail of R1, 500; they will appear at 9am on fabricated charges of public violence.

Both prisoners were released because of pressure by the community which protested outside the police station for five hours.”

For live updates on the situation

Camilla Rose Coutts is 26 she studied at Wits and is a writer and musician. 

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