protest - criminal justice system - Thembelihle informal settlement - Lenasia Magistrates Court

SERI currently represents 20 residents of the Thembelihle informal settlement in Lenasia, who were detained for five nights after being arrested for public violence during a protest in February 2015. Initially, 33 residents – including 7 women, 19 men and 5 children – were arrested. They were forced to spend 4 nights in police custody because the police held them without charge for 24 hours. They were arrested on a Thursday but were only charged on Friday afternoon. This made it impossible for them to be brought before a court before Monday, and meant that they had to spend the weekend in prison. The State opposed bail for, amongst others, the following people:

  • A 54-year old domestic worker, who is the sole breadwinner for herself and her two school-going children.
  • A woman with a 12-year old son she was forced to leave at home, and whose father is a long-distance truck driver, away for many days at a time.
  • An 18-year old school pupil.
  • Several people with fixed employment and addresses, and no criminal records.

The State said that it required a further seven days to verify the addresses of the residents before bail could be granted, arguing that it was difficult to verify addresses of people living in “unnavigable informal settlements”. On 3 March, after hearing arguments from the State and SERI’s legal team, the Magistrate granted bail to all of the accused. However, because the cashier was closed by the time bail was granted, all of them had to spend a fifth night in prison.

The charges against the children were not pursued, and charges against 7 of the adults were withdrawn for lack of evidence. However charges against 20 residents are still being pursued, despite the fact that many of te residents deny that they were even part of the protest, and that they were arrested indiscriminately because their houses happened to be near the site of the protest.