New Frame witnessed a brutal attack by Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department (EMPD) officers on residents of the Good Hope shack settlement in Germiston, Ekurhuleni, in the early hours of Thursday morning.
At least one resident, Siyambusa Mpolase, was arrested.
The police action was in response to the occupation of a piece of nearby land which began on Friday 11 May.
Residents of the Good Hope settlement in Germiston have occupied vacant land which is on the border of Germiston and Boksburg, partly in response to lack of space at the existing settlement.
They also want homes of their own. They have been renting in the settlement and are not accommodated in the formal housing plans that the City has earmarked for the area.
The occupation was organised by Abahlali baseMjondolo members in the Good Hope settlement and it was named Zikode Extension after the movement’s President S’bu Zikode.
The occupiers have remained on the land despite the cold weather and repeated demolitions of their shacks. Building material has been impounded and burnt after each demolition.
On Wednesday night about a dozen SAPS and EMPD vans and minibuses stood lined up against a wall just before the intersection of Lower Boksburg and Knights Roads near the Good Hope settlement.
Armed police officers were deployed as a buffer between the Good Hope settlement and Zikode Extension. Rubber bullets were fired.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, land occupiers gathered on a street corner. Ward 93 councillor, Geoffrey Mthembu, listened as community members voiced their grievances.
“Your children are educated, you sleep in a bed, you don’t know our struggle, our power. We are going back [to Zikode Extension],” said one community member to loud cheers.
Another angry man told Mthembu that the community was now aware that authorities use them as stepping stones during elections, and then abandon them when they have real concerns.
“God is still going to beat you. These are our tears. You only come here when you want votes. Now you have shown us your true colours. We do not have homes because of you, but we are still praying for you. Do you think you will have this job forever while we suffer like this?” he asked.
After a brief meeting with EMPD officers on the scene, Mthembu left.
Nomnikelo Sigenu, a local Abahlali baseMjondolo leader, told New Frame that although they had tried to negotiate with EMPD officers to allow them to go back to Zikode Extension, the police were adamant that they were going to shoot at them with rubber bullets if they tried to cross the road.
As soon as a few community members tried to make their way across Commissioner Road, shots rang out. Chaos ensued as people scattered. The air was thick with the asphyxiating smell of tear gas.
Officers appeared to shoot indiscriminately at anyone within range. New Frame saw one officer hurling bricks at people and showing other officers where people were hiding so they could shoot in their direction.
As a woman fell, begging those running past her and those looking back for help, officers continued to shoot. Some laughed and jeered at the elderly woman, saying “yena ayakwini?” (“where was she going?”).
“Is someone going to help me? Are any of you going to help me? I have injured myself,” she wailed, crawling carefully while trying to keep her head down as people took cover behind steel pipes.
Some retreated to the Good Hope settlement while officers advanced towards her.
Sigenu, who was able to speak to Mpolase after his arrest, said that he had alleged that the officers who arrested him were threatening to assault him. He was taken to the Germiston police station.
New Frame has confirmed that no charge has yet been laid against Mpolase.
EMPD’s Chief Superintendent Wilfred Kgasago told New Frame that he was rushing to a meeting and could not talk, but said that officers reacted because land occupants had blocked off different sections of the road.
“This morning [Thursday] from 5am, they [the land occupiers] started again and they blocked off roads and started throwing stones from the railway bridge,” he claimed, adding that officers stopped Good Hope settlement community members from going back to Zikode Extension.
Sigenu has dismissed allegations that residents had thrown stones at police.
Despite the police violence, the occupiers kept Lower Boksburg Road closed for all of Thursday. Eventually the City of Ekurhuleni’s MMC of Human Settlements, Lesiba Mpya, arrived and addressed the occupiers.
Mpya assured them that a nearby land parcel, Delmore Ext 8, had been identified for their housing needs. He said that services were currently being designed for the land.
When occupiers raised concerns that the land would be insufficient, and that they had heard similar assurances before, he gave them a written guarantee of a meeting to be held at his office on Monday 21 May at which they could “begin the process” of investigating the suitability of the land where Zikode Extension is situated.
The MMC guaranteed the occupiers “peace” going forward, but later appeared to contradict himself when he admitted to having no control over police operations.
Some occupiers scattered rubber bullet shells at the MMC’s feet as he spoke. One woman walked towards him and raised her skirt to reveal her swollen upper thigh, where a rubber bullet had torn through her skin.
Sigenu says they have not lost hope and will go back to the land they have claimed as their own.
Luyanda Fitshane, Abahlali’s deputy chairperson in the local branch, told New Frame that it was important that Mpolase’s arrest was not for nothing.
“We are not changing anything,” he said.
“Tonight ([Thursday] we will go back [to Zikode Extension]. That is our home.”