Khayelitsha violence: State mum over activists' arrest

Angy Peter, who was recently arrested, has been collecting complaints about the police in Khayelitsha for years. (David Harrison, M&G)

Angy Peter, who was recently arrested, has been collecting complaints about the police in Khayelitsha for years. (David Harrison, M&G)

Peter was arrested along with her colleague and partner, Isaac Mbadu.

The couple, who have four children between them, are apparently accused of being involved in the murder of a man the state refers to as Rowan du Preez. Two other people have also been arrested in connection with his murder.

Peter and Mbadu were arrested and appeared in court on Tuesday October 16. The prosecutor opposed bail for them.

With no information about the evidence the police might have about the couple or how the victim died, their colleagues are concerned that Peter and Mbadu might have been targeted to keep them quiet. The dynamic Peter was due to give evidence next month at public hearings being held by a commission of inquiry set up by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille to investigate allegations of police inefficiency  and a breakdown in relations between the Khayelitsha 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," said coalition co-ordinator Gavin Silber. "She has dealt with all the complaints and collected affidavits against police over the years. There are many people who stand to benefit from her not being around."

At least 18 people are known to have been killed this year by vigilantes in Khayelitsha, but the coalition believes the number is much higher.

Right wrongs
The organisation has found Peter a lawyer and this week succeeded in getting her transferred to the maternity section of the overcrowded Pollsmoor Prison because she is pregnant and has recently been hospitalised for severe asthma.

Respected social activist Zackie Achmat is among her colleagues who stepped forward this week to vouch for her character and her resolve to right 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.

A Mfuleni resident, who cannot be named because he fears for his life, said a man known to the community as Rowan was seen being beaten by two people near a local shebeen almost two weeks ago. Community members later heard that he had been found with a tyre placed on him and he appeared to have been burnt alive.

"We know Angy and Isaac were not involved in Rowan's murder," the resident said. "She wasn't there when Rowan was being beaten on the night of the murder. She lives in Mfuleni and we all know her around here. Two people were seen beating him up and it was not [Peter and Mbadu].

"Angy had stopped Rowan from being killed by the community at other times and had called the police. Rowan was a skollie (thug) who used to steal our things. But Angy used to say that you can't take the law into your own hands."

The coalition is aware the community referred to the victim as "Rowan" or "Roy" and said it believed his birth name was Siphiwo Mbevu.

Evidence
The police would not provide details to the Mail & Guardian about who Peter and Mbadu were accused of murdering and what evidence they had. The prosecutor also refused to give out any information.

Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut of the Western Cape police media centre said: "Kindly be advised that this office can confirm the arrest of the persons mentioned in your inquiry on a charge of murder. However, this office has no record of the name of the victim, as quoted by you. The circumstances of the matter are still under investigation ..."

Rowan had worked at the coalition in past months while Peter and Isaac tried to rehabilitate him. The community was rife with allegations that he regularly stole and assaulted people and acted with impunity for years, Silber said.

The Mfuleni resident said he had been present in August when Rowan was accused of stealing a television set belonging to Peter. "Rowan admitted he had taken Angy's plasma TV, but he said that he was working with a policeman who bought the stuff. So Rowan phoned the policeman and he put it on speakerphone. He said to him: 'I have something to give you that is better than what I gave you last night.' And the man said: 'Okay, I'm on my way now.' The policeman came to fetch him ... Rowan got into the car with the policeman. Some community members got into two cars and followed them back to the Mfuleni Police Station. Angy was in one of the cars," he said.

Peter and Mbadu immediately opened a case against the police officer, at which point Rowan was arrested, although he was later released on bail, the resident said.

Rowan was back in the community and on October 13 he was seen drinking with two people at the shebeen in Mfuleni and later being beaten, the resident said.

Improved efficiency
Silber said that immediately after Peter opened a case against the police officer, she had received a call from "a known thug", who said that "this police officer you have opened the case against is incredibly dangerous and you need to leave for the safety of your family".

"In a statement we took from Angy after the incident, she said she had been told: 'Once you get involved with … the only way out is death. He knows your name and address and he won't lose his job because of you.'"

The M&G is withholding his name because it cannot be verified.

The coalition placed Peter in a safe house, but she returned to Mfuleni five days later to protect Rowan because the community again wanted to kill him, said Silber.

"We have spoken to both Angy and Isaac and they deny they were involved in the murder," Silber said. "They claim they were both at home with their children that evening. Angy had come home with severe asthma and she said she wasn't feeling well that night.

"The murder is believed to have taken place on Saturday two weeks ago and they got a call from a police officer the next day to say they should come to the police station."

Social activists say the bizarre part of Peter's case is that, after all her years of fighting for improved efficiency in the police and the courts, she herself has become a textbook case of how justice moves slowly. The first date her lawyer could get for a bail hearing was November 1.

 


 

 

Scrap this 'act of aggression'

 

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has asked Western Cape Premier Helen Zille to suspend the commission of inquiry she established in Khayelitsha to investigate police inefficiency and the breakdown in police and community relations.

The police would like to establish its own investigation because officers claimed in a meeting with Zille last week that they had not been given sufficient opportunity to deal with the complaints.

The establishment of the inquiry was seen by both Mthethwa and national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega as "an act of aggression", Zille wrote in correspondence with the Women's Legal Centre.

The police's proposed plan of action will be sent for comment to the ­organisations that fought for the establishment of an inquiry.

"My gut feel is that this would not be a good idea to suspend the commission of inquiry and it could be a whitewash," said Joel Bregman, senior researcher at the Social Justice Coalition.

The inquiry is being chaired by retired Constitutional Court Judge Kate O'Regan and the former head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Vusi Pikoli, is a commissioner.

Zille said she had called for comments and questioned the police about the independence and credibility of its proposal.

"When I have had the answers to my queries, I will be able to make an informed decision." – Glynnis Underhill

 
Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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