National

Dismay as bail application of social activist is postponed

Glynnis Underhill

The new bail date falls three days after the public hearings into policing in Khayelitsha begins, and Angy Peter is one of the key witnesses.

Angy Peter. (David Harrison, M&G)

Five months pregnant, Social Justice Coalition worker Angy Peter wept in the Blue Down Magistrate's Court after she heard on Thursday that her bail application would be postponed to November 14.

The new bail date falls three days after the public hearings held by the commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelisha begins, and Peter is one of the key witnesses to give testimony.

Suspicion around the motivation behind the arrest of Peter on charges of kidnapping and murder caused her neighbours and colleagues to converge on the court to give her moral support. The small crowd waited until after lunch for her bail application to be heard, only to be disappointed by the announcement.

Peter sat on a bench and wiped her eyes as she waited to be taken back down to the holding cell.

"We are confident we will be able to get her released on bail," said her attorney Josua Greef. "We are aware she is pregnant, and had hoped it would be finalised today."

Peter and her colleague and partner Isaac Mbadu were arrested three weeks ago on charges of kidnapping and murdering Rowan Du Preez, who had apparently had a tyre placed around his neck and was burnt to death. Police have supplied no evidence to reveal why they arrested the couple, and both have told their colleagues they are innocent of any crime.

The Social Justice Coalition is aware the community referred to the victim as "Rowan" and believes his birth name is Siphiwo Mbevu, who was allegedly known to steal goods in the community. Peter had on two previous occasions saved him from being killed by the community in a vigilante killing, they said.

In August, Peter opened a case against a Mfuleni police officer for having what she suspected was a corrupt relationship with "Rowan". The police officer was allegedly buying stolen goods from him. The Mail & Guardian supplied the police media liaison with the case number and asked them to investigate what had happened to the case.

"We can confirm that all aspects regarding this case are being investigated," said Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut of Western Cape police media centre. "The alleged corrupt relationship which the police officer had with the deceased is also being investigated, and only once the investigation has been finalised, can we offer you comment."

A Mfuleni resident, who spoke to the M&G on condition of anonymity, said many of the residents had been on the scene when "Rowan" was accused of stealing a television set belonging to Peter two months ago. "Rowan admitted he had taken Angy's plasma tv, but he said that he was working with a policeman, who bought the stuff. We listened when he made a call to this policeman and told him he had drugs for him. The policeman came to fetch him and he was followed back to the Mfuleni police station."

Colleagues of Peter and Mbadu believe they could have been targeted because Peter was to give evidence at the public hearings of the commission, set up by Premier Helen Zille to investigate allegations of inefficiency by the police, and a breakdown in relations between the community and the police.

"Angy is the face of the campaign on the ground to push for a commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha. She has dealt with all the complaints, and collected affidavits against police over the years," the Social Justice Coalition's coordinator Gavin Silber told the Mail & Guardian. "There are many people who stand to benefit from her not being around."

Her friend and neighbour told the M&G outside court they all believed Peter would never have murdered "Rowan."

"We saw her stop him from being killed in two vigilante killings when the community had had enough of him stealing from us," said a resident of Mfuleni. "Why would she kill him now?"

Before she helped found the Social Justice Coalition, Peter worked for the Treatment Action Campaign, living openly with her HIV status. A dedicated community support worker, she is known to be impassioned by her work, and has spent years in the trenches in crime-ridden Khayelitsha and surrounding areas.

In an interview with the M&G earlier this year on the escalation of vigilante killings in the sprawling township, Peter spoke of how she had frequently tried to intervene when people were being savagely beaten by a mob. The violence has had a devastating effect on her, although it was the damage to the young children exposed to it that worried her most. "People have lost trust in the police," she said outside the Harare police station. "Mob justice is only done when people do not trust the police."

As many as 18 people are known to have been killed this year in vigilante violence in Khayelitsha, but the Social Justice Coalition believes the numbers are really much higher and concealed from the public.

Peter's colleagues have succeeded in getting her transferred to the maternity section of the notoriously overcrowded Pollsmoor Prison, because she is pregnant and has recently been hospitalised for severe asthma. Between them, the couple have four children, who are being cared for by members of the Social Justice Coalition while she is held at Pollsmoor.

Respected social activist Zackie Achmat is among the colleagues who recently stepped forward  to vouch for her character, and her resolve to right the wrongs. "Why would she have become involved in the killing of a man she had allegedly been trying to rehabilitate from a life of crime?" he asked.


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