‘Wrong to use stun grenades, water cannon on restaurant protesters’

Founder of #i'mstaying Jarette Pester with Paul Santo, from Blouberg.

The police’s use of stun grenades and a water cannon to disperse a peaceful protest by restaurant and hospitality workers has been condemned by two MECs and the mayor of Cape Town.

Restaurant employees, owners and those working in hospitality gathered in a human chain-like protest, under the slogan #JobsSaveLives and #ServeUsPlease, in the city centre on Friday.

The police told the demonstrators to disperse, saying they didn’t have a right to protest then used water cannons and stun grenades on them.

Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz,  Finance and Economic Opportunities MEC David Maynier and mayor Dan Plato say the police’s response was unwarranted given the reportedly peaceful nature of the protest.

“It is absurd,” Mr Plato said, “that SAPS and the SANDF are not able to fully mobilise enough resources to respond adequately to violent protests in areas which are experiencing looting, public violence, land invasions, destruction of property and barricading of roads, and yet they are able to mobilise water cannons and stun grenades at the drop of a hat to disperse peaceful protests.

“I have raised this matter with the Provincial Commissioner, Lieutenant General Yolisa Matakata. It is essential that SAPS’ Public Order Policing’s (POP) protocol be urgently reviewed to ensure that their response is adequate and proportional to the threat experienced.”

Mr Maynier said tourism and hospitality businesses were bleeding jobs and closing because of  Covid-19, but instead of getting a “constructive and common-sense” response, they had been met with “flip flopping, uncertainty and an unnecessary use of violence in response to a peaceful protest”.

He added: “These businesses can open safely and they should be allowed to do so.”

Mr Plato urged President Cyril Ramaphosa to heed what he said were the hospitality and tourism sectors’ legitimate concerns.

 “Various sensible proposals have been made by the representative bodies for these industries, and national government can no longer ignore their plight. It is unacceptable that a peaceful protest by business owners and employees fearing for the loss of their livelihoods is met with water cannons and stun grenades.”

The protest on Friday was supported by the #i’mstaying movement. Founder Jarette Petzer said they wanted to get a million people to stand up for their rights by September.

“We want to shut South Africa down. We need to open the economy because jobs save lives.”

Rozanek Reza, from Art of Duplicity in Buitenkant Street, and her colleague, Neil Van Bergen, were among the protesters. They said the alcohol ban had been bad for business.

“We’ve lost our jobs, and we need to get them back… I’m hungry,” Ms Reza said..

Mr Van Bergen said the liquor ban had left them without work. “I need to pay rent and I still haven’t received my UIF.”

Peter Cutler, from Cheynes’, a restaurant group that trades in Claremont, Hout Bay and the Cape Quarter, said he was unemployed with two children to feed.

Tania Sabor, from Sea Point, held a poster saying, “Tourists’ paradise with no tourists.”

 “What is paradise with no service?” she said. “The government needs to help us; we need to get people back to work, earn a living and help them be sustainable.”

Mpho Tsotetsi, of Gardens, said she hadn’t received a salary since March. The restrictions had caused more gender violence because people were frustrated they couldn’t provide for their families, she said.

Charne van Heerden and Rigo Einchhoff, said Pot Luck Club, the Woodstock restaurant they work for, was closed because of the alcohol ban and curfew.

“We couldn’t make any money. We are doing sit-downs but it is not sustainable for us. We also haven’t received UIF.”

Tour guide Edgar Collins said his business had been closed since February with no support and no back-up.

“Up till today, we still don’t know where we stand with the tour-guide relief fund. We serve a very good purpose in this country. Please, government, look at the tour guides as well.”

David Reyners, of Woodstock, played music in bars before lockdown. “People are suffering,” he said, adding that musicians’ voices were being silenced. “Our livelihoods are being taken away.”