Media report from the Daily Maverick confirms that some members of the South African Law Enforcement Agencies enforcing lockdown take the laws into their hands, beat innocent people black and blue and threaten to kill a journalist in Masiphumelele, a township in Cape Town.
A first hand eyewitness journalist who saw the horror puts it like this:”As I turn off the main road, the convoy judders to a standstill, with police and soldiers spilling from vehicles and descending in droves upon the pedestrians jostling on the pavements. Things become a bit of a blur here: the aggression is unchecked, and as far as I can see, completely without reason. I surreptitiously shoot through the car window, trying to take photos without attracting attention.”
The journalist said he saw men with sticks viciously beating a man next to a silver Toyota bakkie and he’s grabbed and forced into the vehicle.
With his accreditation, travel permit and press card he furthers his investigative journalism but got first shot of verbal brutality when one of the officers on the with a buff mask and dark glasses covering his face shouts: “What the fuck do you think you’re doing here.” – with their hands hovering over their pistols.
He reported he identified himself as a journalist, holding up his camera and explained he wanted to fetch his media card from the vehicle and the officer gave him another shot of verbal (unnecessary) aggression, meshed with abuse: “just fuck off”.
The aggression got uglier when some of the officers in plainclothes, with faces covered in buffs barge up against him, shouting and wielding massive sticks (4ft long wooden clubs – as thick as your upper arm) swore at him, abused him and threatened him for a few minutes.
“When I dare to ask one of them for his name, he draws himself up to his full burly height, lifts his club and says, “Fuck of. Or you will die here today.” He thought about Standing Order 156, but lacked enough guts to voice his rights.
Standing Order 156 says police officers “must treat all media representatives with courtesy, dignity and respect, even when provoked…”
He reportedly fled the scene with head buried in shame and a traumatised heart.
In his words, “…I have never felt quite as threatened in my whole life. And ashamed, because the thousands of people who live in Masi – and the millions in other townships – have no place else to go when shit like this goes down.”
He reports his sorrowful experience further: “I did not see any humanity in the masked faces of those thugs who confronted me, only irrational anger driven by unchecked aggression. I did not see any warning being given before the beating I witnessed. And I did not see even a smidgen of economic assistance applied anywhere in that township. What I did see is a system that seems irreparably broken.”
Then he advises some of the employers of the folks in township and informal settlements: “So, when next you raise your gin and tonic while gazing out across your now slightly unkempt lawns, please understand that your ex-gardener or domestic servant or nanny is pretty much fighting for their life out there (despite your posts loudly proclaiming that you will so generously ‘pay their full salaries until this all ends’). I’m sure it makes you sleep well at night under your high thread-count duvet.”
The people in townships face a dilemma in this period: Many of them have no outside to go to when they leave their ‘inside’ and there is no water in many of their homes, no iPad with unlimited WiFi, or Cable TV to entertain their kids.
And the law enforcers make matters worse on some occasions like the one in Masi: Without warning, surrounded and abused and beaten by police…
When you experience this kind brutality especially as a ‘privileged’ white guy like this eyewitness, your words may be similar to his: “This is not my government anymore. But then, with the exception of a short period of halcyon hope post-1994, I’ve not felt much beholden to any government. So you guys can have them, and féte them, and toast them with your chilled chardonnay, and fiddle the f*ck away while what little is left of the economy burns to dust.”
Not politely and obviously angered he concluded: “Avert your eyes as you sit in your houses with extended backyards, and fully stocked pantries (or larders, or whatever you call them) all while bitch*ng about your evaporating wine cellar stock and how ‘the people’ out there just do not understand the importance of social distancing. Boo-fucking-hoo.”
It won’t be unfair to surmise that the townships are not safe. Or the people in township deserve such aggression or brutality?
However, everyone has a responsibility to be law abiding during this critical time and beyond – whether you are officer of the law or a township dweller or those in affluent suburbs.