The Citizen (Gauteng)
Police ‘right with cannon’
NO MISCONDUCT: JUSTIFIED IN USING WATER ON UNRULY SASSA GRANT RECIPIENTS, SAYS IPID Community safety MEC outraged by finding, asking: ‘What kind of society treats vulnerable people like this?’
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) could not find fault with the police’s actions when they used a water cannon to disperse frustrated South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) grant recipients in Bellville on 15 January.
Ipid found police had used minimum force to get the grant recipients to practice social distancing. They were within their operational rights to enforce Covid-19 regulations.
According to the Ipid report, the manager of the Bellville Sassa office said officials had called the police for help earlier that day after they battled for days to get grant recipients to comply with the regulations.
The police arrived but apparently, the crowd still didn’t heed warnings.
It was escalated to the Public Order Police, who warned the people again.
After not heeding that call, an officer in the water cannon vehicle was ordered to take action.
The police told Ipid the options of using pepper or capsicum spray, firearms, rubber bullets or teargas were at their disposal but would have been inappropriate.
The report noted: “The above measures would not have been appropriate to manage the crowd at the Bellville [Sassa] on the day in question, hence less forceful measures were applied.”
Community safety MEC Albert Fritz asked Ipid to investigate the incident.
On the day in question, alarmed that people were not applying the 1.5-metre social distancing rule, Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu climbed into an armoured vehicle and used the public address system to ask people to spread out.
Later in the day, while she was in discussions with Sassa officials inside the building, jets of water from the water cannon were sprayed on people to force them to stand apart, eliciting outrage.
Before going into the findings, Ipid explained the acting provincial police commissioner, Major-General Mpumelelo Manci, did not give the “substantive details” Fritz requested.
It was also not clear why Sassa officials could not ensure compliance themselves or why there were such long queues.
The directorate also found the police officers had fulfilled their duties in terms of the law, that they did not commit misconduct and that the police used their resources to disperse people to ensure social distancing and to prevent the blocking of traffic in the road.
It said there were no reported injuries and no member of the public had lodged a complaint with them.
“In the premise, there is no misconduct committed by any member of Saps [South African Police Service] who responded and attended the Saps complaint on 15 January, 2020.
“Saps acted within the prescripts of the law,” the report read.
In response, Fritz issued a statement saying he was disappointed by the finding.
“We all saw the videos. Water cannons were used on Sassa beneficiaries waiting in a queue outside.
“We also 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.
“On a more fundamental level, though, what kind of society uses state resources to treat vulnerable people, Sassa beneficiaries, like this?
“The Ipid report seems to show our state institutions allow for this. Is this the kind of society we are?” –
Saps acted within the prescripts of the law