Khayelitsha human rights activists' nightmare lives

Angy Peters. (David Harrison, M&G)

Angy Peters. (David Harrison, M&G)

When police raided social activist Angy Peter's shack in Mfuleni township in Cape Town two weeks ago, it was at 3am.

To her horror, the plainclothes police officers even searched the crib of her six-week-old son Alex, claiming they were looking for a cellphone.

Peter's partner, Isaac Mbadu, said the experience was frightening because some of the police officers had jumped over their fence to enter the property. With five young children between them, there was no time to just sit and cry, Peter said.

"The police didn't have uniforms on. One of them was wearing a bullet-proof police vest," Peter said last week week.
"We asked them where their search warrant was and they had to go back to the police station to get it. We still don't even know what they were hoping to find."

For the couple, life has rapidly descended into a nightmare. One minute 32-year-old Peter was the face of the commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha, a social activist with a bright future. She had dealt with complaints and ­collected affidavits from residents about the police on behalf of the non-governmental organisation Social Justice Coalition.

Before she helped to found the organisation, Peter worked for the Treatment Action Campaign and was open about her HIV status.

But Peter's life came crashing down after she was arrested with Mbadu by police last year for the murder of Rowan du Preez. The police have not revealed what evidence they have against the couple and their colleagues believe they have been set up.

Known as "Roy" to residents, Du Preez had been arrested in the past for stealing from the Mfuleni community. His body was found in the area; he had been necklaced. But Peter's neighbours confirmed she had publicly saved him from that fate on at least two occasions in the past.

After 10 weeks in Polls­moor Prison, the pregnant Peter and Mbadu were released on bail in time to spend Christmas with their children.

Despite the fact that this is the second police raid on their home since they came out of prison, the couple have refused to take up the offer of a "safe house" from the coalition.

"Where must we go?" Peter asked. "This is the only home I have ever known."

The coalition maintains that the allegations against Peter and Mbadu are fabricated.

"We see this as a clear case of police harassment and intimidation against two human rights activists who speak out against problems with policing in their community," a senior researcher for the coalition, Joel Bregman, said.

"Numerous incidents portray a pattern of police abuse of power and an attempt to bully Angy and Isaac, and make life difficult for them and their family."

Provincial commissioner Lieu­tenant General Arno Lamoer said he had been told there had been a complaint about the raid.

"We are still investigating the murder case against them," he said, "and we are looking into the complaint from the couple."

The couple's colleagues say their predicament is a classic example of why a commission of inquiry into policing is so necessary.

However, the inquiry, which was set up by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille last August, is currently the subject of a court dispute.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has been widely condemned in Khayelitsha for opposing the commission and his case is now going to the Constitutional Court.

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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