On 26 June 2020, SERI researcher Thato Masiangoako participated in an international panel discussion on confronting police brutality and structural racism. The panel discussion was hosted by the International People’s Assembly against Austerity (based in the UK). The panel included speakers from South Africa, Hong Kong, the United States of America, India and Italy. Over 300 people streamed the discussion.
Masiangoako’s contribution shared some of the history behind police brutality in South Africa and reflected on the work that SERI has done under the thematic are of ‘Expanding Political Space’ and the ways in which issues of police brutality had been highlighted by the lockdown but form part of a longer history.
On 5 July 2020, Thato Masiangoako also participated in a panel discussion on police and state violence hosted by the Portland Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. The panel included perspectives from Palestine, Philippines, the United States of America, Ireland and South Africa.
In her presentation, Masiangoako contextualised some of the violence carried out by the security forces during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown as part of a longer pattern of police and state violence against mainly poor black communities across South Africa. Masiangoako also discussed the nature and history of police and state violence in South Africa and discussed the ways in which such forms of violence have persisted following South Africa’s transition to democracy.
Masiangoako also discussed, as examples, the Marikana Massacre and the police response to the student protests and the persistent lack of accountability for victims of police violence. Over 1,500 people streamed the discussion.
SERI has noted the media statement issued by the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation on Wednesday, 1 July 2020 in response to the brutal eviction of Empolweni residents in Khayelitsha Cape Town by the Anti-Land Invasion Unit and metropolitan police.
In the statement, the Department outlines Minister Sisulu’s intentions to challenge the City of Cape Town in court for illegal evictions and provide permanent housing for 49 families currently in Empolweni. While the Minister’s efforts are welcomed, they fail to fully acknowledge the widespread nature of evictions and demolitions of poor and vulnerable households across the country during the COVID-19 lockdown.
These attacks have been ordered and carried out despite a moratorium on evictions during COVID‑19 alert levels 5, 4 and 3. These are gross violations and warrant the Minister’s urgent intervention. Various social justice organisations, including SERI, have made submissions to the National Command Council and the Minister, calling for the nation-wide moratorium on evictions to include a directive under the Disaster Management Act stating that for the duration of the National State of Disaster, no-one may demolish any structure which has been or is being constructed for the purposes of residential occupation on any land or in any building, without an order of the Court.
The Minister’s approach cannot be limited to any specific incident but should adopt a more proactive and programmatic stance. This will be critical as South Africa’s COVID-19 infection rates continue to rise. A home is the first line of defence against infection, it is essential to enabling people to protect themselves from contracting COVID‑19. The violent, callous and unlawful demolition of people’s homes is not only reprehensible but continues to frustrate the country’s objective to curb the spread of COVID-19.
We call on the Minister to address this as an issue of national importance and issue a directive to stop the demolition of homes by all municipalities.
On Monday, 29 June 2020, the full bench of the High Court in Johannesburg delivered a judgment declaring section 13 (7) (c) of the South African Police Services Act 68 of 1995 (the SAPS Act) constitutionally invalid.
The full bench found that the former Provincial Commissioner failed to apply her mind to the template-based applications for the authorisations which led to the warrantless raids of the applicants’ homes and simply rubber stamped the applications brought to her. The raids in the residents’ homes were “carried out in a manner that was cruel, humiliating, degrading and invasive” and demonstrate an egregious abuse of, and infringement of the residents’ constitutional rights to privacy and dignity, the court held.
The full bench held that the decisions to issue the authorisations fall to be set aside, in terms of sections 6(2)(e)(i) and (ii) of PAJA respectively, as they were issued for a reason not authorised by section 13(7) of the SAPS Act and for an ulterior purpose or motive which is to intimidate the applicants into vacating the so-called ‘hijacked buildings’.
In its judgment, the court ordered the legislature to cure the constitutional defect within 24 months and pending the correction the section is to be read as excluding any private home and/or any person inside such private home.
Khululiwe Bhengu, SERI attorney representing the residents said: “The courts continue to interpret the constitution in a way that vindicates the rights of the poor. Because of this judgment poor residents of the inner city can enjoy their homes without the fear of being raided by the police.”
On 19 June SERI made a submission to the State Attorney in response to his call for civil society organisations to make written and oral submissions concerning the challenges faced by those in Rental Housing Schemes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
SERI’s submission advocates for an appropriate response for tenants in the inner city of Johannesburg, raises concerns with the cancellation of lease agreements due to rental arrears and addresses the on-going unlawful evictions or threats of evictions faced by tenants during lockdown. The submission further engages with appropriate interventions by the South African Police Services, the Rental Housing Tribunal and the municipality.
In conclusion, SERI proposes the following pragmatic solutions:
Read the full submission here.
On 12 June 2020, SERI researcher Thato Masiangoako spoke to New Frame's Musawenkosi Cabe for a podcast episode about police brutality for Radio New Frame. In the podcast, Masiangoako and Cabe discussed the excessive use of force by law enforcement during the nationwide lockdown instituted in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2002. In the discussion, the nature of abuses witnessed during the lockdown were analysed in relation to other examples of police violence post-1994.
Masiangoako argued that the lack of accountability for previous incidents of police violence has contributed to the public being desensitised to acts of police brutality. She argued that the middle and upper class have been able to be shielded from the reality of police brutality because it is largely meted out against poor and marginalised groups in South Africa who are predominantly black. What the lockdown did was shine a harsh light on the issue of police brutality in a way that was not been possible before.
In the podcast, Masiangoako and Cabe also discussed why the South African public's outrage at the death of George Floyd in the United States helped to draw attention to local incidents police brutality and why it was a catalyst for South Africa's government to finally address the issue publically.