A group of residents in Bo-Kaap has accused the South African Police Service (SAPS) of “intimidation tactics” after a 17-year-old boy was arrested for public violence.
The boy, whose identity remains hidden because he is a minor, was rolling two tyres down Wale Street in preparation for the protest when two officers apprehended him and placed him in a police van. They then drove him to Cape Town central police station near Bo-Kaap.
“We told the police to take an adult, we were 30 people there and they chose to take the youngest. They didn’t want to take an adult,” said a protester who witnessed the arrest, and offered himself to the police in exchange for the young man.
Every evening at around 5pm a group of young men, known as the Bo-Kaap Youth Movement, have been burning tyres to block off the popular Wale Street, which leads into Bo-Kaap in Cape Town’s inner city. The protests have been ongoing for about three weeks, drawing attention to gentrification and its negative impact on the community which resides there.
Seehaam Samaai, a lawyer with the Women’s Legal Centre — who is representing the boy — said the reason for the arrest according to police, was that a street camera operated by the City of Cape Town captured footage of a boy carrying two petrol bombs on Tuesday. The camera, known as part of the “Cyclops” operation, is run by the metro police. When suspicious activity is picked up on camera, SAPS is notified. When the boy’s lawyers asked to see the footage, the police were not forthcoming, Samaai explained.
The police were also unclear if the boy they arrested is the same one in the video, she added.
When the arrest was made, the police did not find petrol bombs on the teenager, but Samaai said that they took him anyway, believing that because he was in possession of tyres, he must have petrol too. No petrol was found on his person.
Police spokesperson Andre Traut confirmed that the boy has been charged with public violence.
“Police responded to the protest action in the area which has been occurring frequently in the area since last month when the arrest was made. The suspect is due in court once he has been charged,” Traut said.
Protesters however, accuse police of attempting to intimidate them and have dismissed the boy’s arrest as illegitimate. Shafwaan Laubcher, the spokesperson for the Bo-Kaap Youth Movement, was standing outside the police station on Tuesday night with a group of fellow protesters waiting to hear if the youngster would be released.
“We can assure you that there was no petrol bombs and that was part of their pie in the sky excuses that they gave us here,” Laubcher. “They were just trying some scare tactics on the youngsters.”
“They were there before us even. The protest hadn’t even started and they were there.”
Traut, meanwhile has dismissed the claims of intimidation.
“The allegation of intimidation tactics is devoid of truth as it is not our operational approach to intimidate protesters to maintain law and order in this province,” Traut said.
Arresting a minor
On Wednesday morning, the boy appeared in court where he was assessed in a preliminary inquiry. Minors, by law, are required to appear for a preliminary inquiry set up by the court instead of making a first appearance. This is because the process is not considered a part of the criminal justice system as yet. The boy was eventually released from police custody just before midnight on Tuesday following the prosecutor and a social worker finding little reason to keep him.
But Samaai alleges the police breached the boy’s rights when they arrested him. Arresting officers are required to contact a minor’s parents before they are taken to a police station. In this case, the teenager had already been taken by the police when his mother heard of his detention.
“I was in the bus on my way home from work when my sister called me. She told me they took him and I mustn’t stress. I was already [in disbelief]. I just thought he’s not that type of child and I’m not that type of mother ” said *Fatima, whose identity is hidden to protect her son’s identity.
Sitting outside the courtroom, Fatima was frustrated by her absence from work. She is the breadwinner and without her income there is no-one else to put food on the table for her four children.
As she sat, she expressed disappointment at the protesters and the Bo-Kaap community as a whole, for not being at court to support her son when he had helped them in their demonstrations. While a group of residents sat outside the courtroom, Fatima said the majority had stayed away.
“When they were having meetings, I told him you can go look but don’t participate. If they told you to participate and they are going to stand by you, then no problem. I know it is for the youth for the future when we can’t be there. But now, unfortunately, out of the whole lot it was my son and nobody was there,” she said.
“I was devastated because I didn’t have any direction on where to find him and what to do. Nobody told me what was happening.”
The case has been postponed until July 17 when lawyers for the accused hope the charges will be dropped. In the meantime, protests in Bo-Kaap continued as normal on Wednesday evening, and the boy remains in the custody of his parents.