/ 17 August 2018

Wentworth residents blame violence at Engen on the police

The Engen refinery in South Durban has gone to court to stop residents from protesting there.
The Engen refinery in South Durban has gone to court to stop residents from protesting there. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Wentworth residents have told the high court in Durban that it was the police, acting on the instruction of Engen, and not them who caused the violence during a demonstration outside the petrochemical giant’s Durban refinery earlier this year.

They have also accused Engen of going to court with the cynical motive of securing an interdict not to protect its property from harm but to “silence” ongoing protests by residents.

READ MORE: Wentworth residents gain ally in battle against Engen

Frank Alexander, a community liaison officer with the South Durban Basin Community Development Trust, made these claims in papers submitted to the court in response to an interim interdict secured by the company last month.

The interim order was granted against Alexander and four other residents who had been involved in the protests over contracts, jobs and residents’ demands for a training centre and shares in the company.

Engen had said in papers that protests by residents in June had been violent and were a threat to its refinery in Wentworth’s Tara Road.

Alexander said Engen had provided no evidence of violence on the part of the protesters, himself or any of the other respondents. The company had failed to produce footage from its security cameras to back up its claims.

He said that, on the day of the march, the police had cordoned off Tara Road to allow residents to deliver a memorandum to the refinery, where they had been scheduled to meet Engen chief executive Yusa Hassan.

READ MORE: Interdict adds extra fuel to Wentworth residents’ ire

Residents had arrived at the gates to be told Hassan would not meet them. Management had then instructed the police to disperse the marchers, who had so far been peaceful. “The officer in charge simply acted on instruction of the applicant’s representatives and proceeded to call on the crowd to disperse. Stun grenades were fired at the crowd, rubber bullets were fired and many people were injured,” Alexander said.

The police, he said, had acted as a “private security force” for Engen. The parties are now waiting for the court to set a date for oral arguments.