Killed for rice: Two dead after police open fire on looters

Two residents of Bizana in the Eastern Cape were shot dead by police last night, after an altercation broke out while they were collecting goods from a broken down truck. 

Mzamo Dlamini, a resident, said a truck carrying rice stalled and fell over on the side of the road. “As usual when people saw rice all over, they helped themselves.” The police opened fire after “one or two people” started throwing stones at them, he said. 

One of the victims was running away, while another was waiting for a taxi, Dlamini said. 

Ntlahla Hlebo, the ward councillor for Lurholweni township where the incident happened, said two people had died and 11 had been admitted to hospital. The community was meeting today and was planning on marching to the police station to demand that the officers be removed, he said.

He also said that when he first arrived at the scene he was told by the police that they had only used rubber bullets. “There was no aggressiveness from the people. They [the police] are just creating a story.”

The police should have come armed with the correct weapons, and not opened fire with live ammunition, he said. “There was no need to kill people for rice.”

Community members had found shotgun shells on the scene, he said. “I do not understand how it is possible for police to kill so many unarmed residents that they are supposed to protect.” 

Brigadier Miranda Mills, the Eastern Cape police spokesperson, said five police officers arrived because the truck was blocking the road and the driver had asked for help in stopping people taking goods. It was reversing and lost part of its load of rice, mealie-meal and sugar, she said. 

“The police came and got things under control. The people stopped taking goods. But then the owner of the truck arrived and started salvaging the goods.”

This angered the community members, she said. “It was like oil to the fire.” The owner was then pulled towards the settlement. “They were shouting that they wanted to kill him.” The police intervened and people started throwing rocks at them and advanced towards the police, which forced them to hide behind their vehicles. One officer was lightly injured, she said.

Mills said the police were ordinary station police, and not a response unit. They were armed with shotguns and live ammunition. “It became more and more violent and they used what means they had.” A 34-year-old woman and a 19-year old man were killed, she said.

Mills said that the Independent Police Directorate was investigating the incident.

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is a former acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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