Police misuse the criminal justice system to silence dissent

Grassroots activists are routinely arrested on bogus charges, most often public violence, and then made to appear in court on multiple occasions before the charges are dropped.

It took the South African Police Service three months and 12 days to finalise its investigation into a charge of public violence against Siyambusa Mpolase, who was arrested in the early hours of  May 18 . 

New Frame previously reported that the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Police Department (EMPD) assaulted people who had occupied a piece of land near the Good Hope shack settlement in Germiston, which they named Zikode extension.

It was during this clash with police that Mpolase was arrested. The settlement is named after S’bu Zikode, a leader of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack dwellers’ movement, who has gone into hiding after the movement reported that sources in the ANC and the police, as well as a private investigator, had warned of plans to assassinate him. 

Mpolase appeared before the Germiston magistrates’ court for the fifth time on August 31, convinced that the case against him would be withdrawn. During this appearance, New Frame witnessed an exchange between Mpolase, his attorney, Paul Masha, and the prosecutor, who did not have Mpolase’s docket with him.

Masha left and returned with a clerk of court who had the docket. The attorney confirmed to New Frame that the docket was at the Germiston police station. The prosecutor then called up the matter, saying that the investigation was complete and that the matter was ready for trial.

“The only thing that was missing was a statement from the police,” said Mpolase, who has spent a fortune on legal fees. But, when Mpolase appeared in court on September 18, the statement was still not there.

Charge of public violence

The Right2Protest project, which is made up of various organisations committed to affirming civil rights, recently released the State of Protest Report, which observed, among many things, that, without substantive evidence, police systemically misuse the criminal charges of malicious damage to property and public violence to clamp down on activists.

Mpolase told New Frame that his arrest was political, based on the manner in which he was arrested. He alleged that the police brutally manhandled him. After the arrest one police officer allegedly said, “Here is this dog we have been looking for.” If this alleged assault is proved in court, Mpolase’s arrest would be deemed unconstitutional.

“In a group of three men who were assisting a woman who was crying for help after being hit by a rubber bullet, I was the only one arrested,” said Mpolase. In South African law, public violence cannot be committed by a single person. A number of people acting with common purpose commit the crime of public violence. 

“The issue of land is used by the ANC for election campaigns for 2019, otherwise it won’t happen,” said Mpolase. 

He will next appear in the Germiston magistrates’ court on 19 October.

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