South African Police Service (SAPS) police officers who used a water cannon to disperse a crowd outside the South African Social Security Agency’s (Sassa) Bellville office on 15 January have been exempted from any misconduct, an Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) report found.
The crowd that was dispersed was made up of elderly people and other beneficiaries of the Sassa temporary disability grant, who had to undergo medical reassessment before renewing their grants after the expiry in December 2020. This resulted in large crowds gathering outside the Sassa office in Bellville.
Amid the second wave of Covid-19, Sassa staff and security officials requested the police’s assistance to enforce social distancing. After attempts by the police to ask the crowd to disperse, SAPS’ Public Order Policing units (POPs) were deployed and used water cannons to disperse the crowd.
The Western Cape MEC for community safety, Albert Fritz, laid a complaint against the usage of water cannons on “vulnerable grant recipients”.
An internal police inquiry was conducted, and a final report was drawn by Ipid.
Key findings of the Ipid report
- There was no misconduct committed by any members of SAPS who responded and attended the SAPS complaint on 15 January 2021 outside the Sassa office in Bellville.
- SAPS acted within the prescripts of law by attempting to control the situation in terms of the Disaster Management Act.
- After a warning was given, police members sprayed water into the air and not directly onto the crowd for two seconds.
- The disabled group of Sassa beneficiaries was already helped and were not part of the disorderly group, who refused to disperse on the SAPS’s request.
On Tuesday, Fritz expressed his disappointment at the findings after receiving the report last month on 9 April.
Fritz argues that someone must be held accountable.
“We see protests on a daily basis in our country where crowds are far more unruly than the crowd outside of Sassa on that day, and water cannons are not used on the unruly crowds. So there is the question of inconsistency,” he said, adding: “At some level, somebody must be held accountable. If it is the case that SAPS acted in terms of the law then questions must be asked to Sassa and their operations.
”The Ipid report, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, also states that no injuries or complaints by individuals were lodged with Ipid following the incident at the Sassa office in Bellville.