SAPS riot police seized general secretary of the Social Justice Coalition, Axolile Notywala, 29, during the protest by more than 200 people at the Cape Town Civic Centre last Thursday, January 31.
The protest blocked all entrances to the civic centre and disrupted the first council meeting of the year.
The protesters came from Nkandla in Kraaifontein, Ses’Khona in Philippi East, Island in Khayelitsha and Qandu-Qandu in Khayelitsha. They wanted mayor Dan Plato to leave the meeting and speak to them about poor living conditions in their communities.
Mr Notywala, who is on committee representing Nkandla, is due to appear in court on Wednesday February 6 after being arrested under the Regulation of Gatherings Act – the same apartheid-era piece of legislation the Social Justice Coalition scored a victory against last year, when the Constitutional Court supported an earlier Western Cape High Court ruling that a section of the act was unconstitutional and invalid.
Section 12 (1) (a) made it a crime to convene a gathering of more than 15 people without first notifying the municipality.
The SJC had gone to court after several of its members had been charged with contravening the act during a peaceful protest at the civic centre in 2013.
Now it seems the police are intent on using the same section of that act, albeit different parts of it, to prosecute Mr Notywala.
He has vowed to lay a police-brutality complaint with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate on the day he appears in court.
He says the protest at the civic centre was peaceful until the riot police arrived and fired a stun grenade.
“I was part of the peaceful protest where we sang and danced at the entrance of the civic centre,” said Mr Notywala. “Police saw us there and they pointed their guns to the crowd. This upset me, and I approached them.”
He said he had walked up to the stairs to face the police, asking them “why they are ready for battle”?
“The protesters had no intention of being violent, but a stun grenade was thrown at them,” said Mr Notywala.
He said he had turned around to see people, including the elderly, running; and when he had asked the police why they were hurting the protesters, he had been arrested.
“An officer grabbed me by my T-shirt and said I am being arrested. When I asked why, they could not tell me, but communicated in Afrikaans.”
He said one of the officers had then struck him over his knuckles three times with a pair of handcuffs.
He had been detained at Cape Town Central Police station for seven hours, he said.
Cape Town Central police spokesman Captain Ezra October said SAPS riot officers had arrested a 29-year-old man for “contravening the Regulation of Gatherings Act”, specifically section 12 (1) g and j.
Captain October could not describe the specific charges, but the act makes it clear that they relate to hindering, interfering with or resisting a police officer in the course of their duties or failing to comply with an order given by an officer at a gathering.
Captain October said he could not confirm whether stun grenades had been used to disperse the crowd.
At the protest, Ntombomzi Mafaya told Capetowner she came to hear from the mayor.
“We want Dan Plato to come outside and address us. That’s why we are here. We want to tell him about our living conditions.”
She complained about pit latrines, a lack of water and empty promises about housing.
Tania Hinana, a community activist from Nkandla, said she and other activists had sent several emails to the mayor, asking him to consider their “inhumane living conditions”.
Residents had become angry and decided to protest when he had not responded, she said.
“We sleep under sails, and our shacks are built from offcuts of wood. We live among newborn babies, the elderly and disabled people. Our living conditions are not urgent to these politicians, and we are not allowing the DA to manage our communities,” she said.
She said they had a right to toilets and running water even though they were illegally occupying the land.
Ms Hinana said many in Nkandla had left their backyard homes because they couldn’t afford the rent.
“In that informal settlement, we make fires to feed the families and borrow water from residents in the community until we can pay them. Many residents get fed up with supplying water to us, and soon no one will be providing anymore.”
Nomgatinziweni Nziweni, a young woman with a six-month-old baby, also came out to protest.
“The reason I am here today is for my child’s future. We
have no toilet and no water. It
is hard for me to make his
bottles because I have to use
tap water that I borrow from a sisi in the community. I don’t want my child to grow up only knowing this kind of life,” she said.
She had dug a hole inside her shack, she said, and used it as a toilet and to dispose of her son’s dirty nappies.
“My shack always smells horrible, but what else can I do?”
ANC mayoral candidate Xolani Sotashe said an SMS had alerted him to the protest outside while was in the council meeting.
He said he had heard a woman had been hurt by a stun grenade, although that could not be confirmed by the Capetower.
He said he had gone outside to speak to the protesters, then asked Mr Plato to address them.
Later, Mr Sotashe, along with Mr Plato, spoke to the crowd from the civic centre.
Housing delivery had to be fair and structured so that no one jumped the queue.
“When land is invaded, we are all affected. Illegal land invasions are affecting our service-delivery plans, our social stability and the financial planning of the city, said Malusi Booi, Mayoral committee member for human settlements.
“New informal settlement areas that have resulted from recent land invasions have not been planned or budgeted for.”