AbM: Notes on the Police Attack on the Pemary Ridge Settlement

14 11 2009

14 November 2009

The Sydenham police arrived at Pemary Ridge at around 8pm on Friday night in one private car.Three police officers first went to a woman’s tuck shop. They found that the shop was closed, and proceeded to kick down the front door. The woman, hearing the police and fearing they would damage her shop, entered through the back door. When she entered, they arrested her for having bottles of beer in her shop.
In the hours that followed, the police tore through the settlement, kicking down doors, issuing beatings with fists, batons, and even household items. The police shot, at random, with live ammunition, within close range of people and their homes. They assaulted both women and men.

Before the shooting began, one man, who was walking by the tuck shop of the arrested woman, was beaten by police, without explanation. Another man, who was walking home from work, unaware of what was happening in the settlement, was beaten on the street. He was told by police officers that “it was to teach you people a lesson,” and so that when he returned home injured from work, “that lesson would be brought back to the community.”

Other people were beaten by police inside their homes. One man from the Arnett Drive settlement was visiting friends, sitting inside and talking, after work. The police kicked down the door, shouting that they were “looking for ganja.” He, the two other men and two women inside, said they did not have any ganja. The police said, “don’t make us look stupid” and that they “smelled ganja.” The man said whatever the police thought they were smelling was not ganja; he drinks alcohol, but does not smoke ganja. A police officer then hit him, repeatedly, for “talking back,” and for “trying to make them look stupid.” The officers then began beating all 5 people inside the home, including the two women. Blood covered the floor of the home, and the door remains off its hinges.

The police were not finished. Shortly thereafter, once another police van had arrived, the officers returned to the home, and pulled the man that they had already assaulted outside. They dragged him to the street that runs along the top of the settlement, and then beat him bloody again with batons and fists all over his body – injuring especially, his back and knees. The police said that they were “teaching him a lesson.” With difficulty, the man managed to escape, and ran to the bush to hide.

Some people gathered outside to see what was happening: while standing and talking, both women and men were beaten by police. An estimated two men and three women were arrested. Other police officers began shooting, with live ammunition, at random, in close range of people and their homes. People ran, and hid in the bush.

Many women in the settlement then began to form a barricade in the street at the top of the settlement. At first, the women put stones and a log in the street, and then they put tires and set the barricade alight. Later, the police forced some of the people they arrested to remove the smouldering remnants of the barricade with their bare hands.

Again, the police returned to settlement, with an estimated additional 14 or 15 officers. The police, again, shot live ammunition at random, while most people hid in the bush.

11 women and men were arrested. It is difficult to estimate how many people have been injured at this stage. However, the 11 people arrested apparently were assaulted, their friends and families members, who witnessed the beatings, say. Another 6 people, among those who remained at the settlement overnight, had visible injuries, swollen wounds and bleeding. There have been no reported bullet wounds, despite that police, on two separate occasions, fired live ammunition inside the settlement.

Philani Zungu is the former Vice President of Abahlali andthe current chairperson of Abahlali baseMjondolo in Pemary Ridge. Philani’s home was shot through with at least one bullet. The police were using live ammunition that night, as the community confirmed when they found the bullet casings the following day. At the time, people were fearful that this was a shoot-to-kill scenario. Many fled the settlement when the first round of shooting began. Some hid in the bush down near the river while the police fired. After the second round of police shooting, some people left the settlement entirely for the night, as they feared the police would return. Residents went to the Arnett Drive settlement (also affiliated to Abahlali baseMjondolo) for the night, or to friend and family homes elsewhere.

At 11:30pm, residents themselves called an ambulance. The ambulance arrived at around 12:30am. The ambulance took one man to the hospital, with head injuries from police beatings. The others, who were also injured and bleeding, were not taken to hospital, as the ambulance attendants said their injuries were not serious enough.

Several Abahlali members from Pemary Ridge went to the Sydenham police station around 2:30am to inquire about those who had been arrested. A police officer told them that 11 people were arrested. He said they could not see the arrested, and that visiting hours were at 12pm on Saturday. He said that the arrested had not been charged yet, but that they would appear in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court on Monday. When asked if those arrested had received medical attention, he denied that they were injured. He said that the 11 arrested were not injured, and so have not received any medical attention.

The local Abahlali baseMjondolo branch organised a small press conference in the settlement this morning. About 60 residents attended the press conference. Later on an Abahlali baseMjondolo delegation went to the Sydenham Police station to demand a meeting with the police. The officers on duty used the excuse that they could not speak for those on duty last night. However a few members of the delegation were allowed to visit the prisoners. The prisoners said that four of them are seriously injured and that their requests for medical attention had been refused. Medical attention for the four was requested by the visitors but the police told them that ‘we know when to call a doctor and when not to. Who the hell are you to tell us how to do our job?’ The detainees have still not been charged. It was confirmed that they are scheduled to appear in the Pinetown Magistrate’s court on Monday.

This is the third time, since the attacks in Kennedy Road, that the Sydenham police have brutally harassed and arrested residents of Pemary Ridge. The last two times, the police said it was for the self-connection of electricity. Everyone knows that the the police attacks on Pemary Ridge are part of the wider ongoing attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo.

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