As we celebrate yet another Human Rights Day recent events in kwaShembe (an informal settlement in Clermont), Mangete and adjoining Macambini, near Mandeni, and Kennedy Road informal settlement in Durban show the lack the lack of progress we have made in ensuring people’s rights to freedom of political association.

This morning, Sunday 21 March, a number of dwellings of COPE supporters were burnt down and vandalised in the kwaShembe informal settlement area of Clermont. While there have been isolated incidents in this past, the attacks on COPE supporters started in earnest on Sunday 14 March, with police in the area claiming they could only ‘contain’ the situation, rather than arrest those committing the crimes. People fled their homes, initially camping in COPE offices in Durban. Cases were opened at kwaDabeka station, one case of intimidation covering a number of incidents. According to a press report on 18 March, police had been deployed in the area ‘to ensure 24 hour visibility’ and prevent any further intimidation. Residents were encouraged by the SAPS to their homes since the police were there to protect them. However, according to a COPE representative who was in the area yesterday, 20 March, there was no sign of any police. The local station commissioner claims that police deployment is at night, because no incidents were expected during day time – which is cold comfort for those who have lost their homes and possessions. Nor have key perpetrators been arrested, despite having been identified.

On Sunday 14 March a committee elected by persons listed as successful claimants in the Mangete land claim, supposedly settled in 2002, called a meeting at Mangete Primary School to report back on legal action that has been taken against Macambini traditional leader Mathaba. Mathaba, despite never having been a claimant, controls a Trust established by the Land Claims Commission, which holds land for the claimants, and income which should be for them. Most claimants have never received any of these benefits, so have called for a review of the settlement in the Land Claims Court, and have also approached the Master of the High Court calling for the conditions of the Trust, including insofar as access to financial statements, to be implemented. Papers have been served on Mathaba (who is also in contempt of court, having ignored a High Court order in which he is the First Respondent). The meeting at Mangete Primary School was to take place at 10h00 and the Mandeni SAPS had been requested, three days earlier, to ensure a security force patrol. When claimants arrived for the meeting there was no police presence. A van which had been to the area earlier had left, Mandeni SAPS claimed they had no personnel and vehicles, and the telephone of the standby officer (the station commissioner) was on messaging mode. According to eyewitness accounts at the time, and sworn statements, Mathaba arrived and told those present to disperse or face the consequences. The door of his vehicle was open and a large gun – possibly a rifle – lay on the seat pointing in the direction of those present. It is not known if the gun is licenced. Fearing for their safety (with good reason, given TRC findings against him, and, more recently, sworn statements and an interdict) those present dispersed and went to the Mandeni station to open a case. Once again, the SAPS wilfully failed to protect people, despite a history of violence directed against people who want to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of association and assembly. Mathaba had no right whatsoever to interfere in this meeting, since Mangete Primary School is part of Mangete, and not part of the Macambini tribal area.

As in kwaShembe, people have been driven out of Kennedy Road informal settlement, and had their houses destroyed, apparently because they are associated with the shack dwellers movement Abahlali  baseMjondolo, or believed to be COPE supporters.  Although twelve Abahlali supporters have been arrested and charged it seems that no arrests have been made for attacks perpetrated against them.  Of the twelve arrested almost six months ago, five have been refused bail, despite no good reason apparently having been advanced by the police for the refusal of bail. According to a statement issued by ecumenical organisation Diakonia, following the five’s tenth court appearance on 19 February 2010 ‘…the new magistrate in Abahlali court appearance has admitted that there is massive political pressure in the Kennedy 12 case’ The five were, once again, remanded in custody to 4 May 2010.

In all three cases above fingers are pointed at the police for their failure to protect people, and to prosecute those who violate their rights. This government has had sixteen years to transform the police but not only has it failed abysmally, it is in the process of taking us back to the past with the proposed militarisation of police ranks. Rather than celebration, Human Rights Day calls for a sober reflection on where South Africa may be heading if more people do not make their voices heard in condemning the type of violations which continue to occur, apparently with impunity.

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