Police use sjamboks and rubber bullets to implement Hillbrow lockdown

an amaBhungane investigation

On the fourth day of South Africa’s 21-day national lockdown on Monday, police in Hillbrow continued to make use of pressure to maintain folks off the streets. AmaBhungane and the Mail & Guardian witnessed police firing rubber bullets and beating civilians with sjamboks. Police stated they have been following orders from “the highest”.

At noon on Monday, a white Toyota hatchback — whose registration the M&G and amaBhungane famous — was cruising via the quieter-than-usual streets of Hillbrow, a densely populated suburb close to Johannesburg’s metropolis centre. 

Inside was a plainclothes policeman carrying denims, a purple jacket and surgical gloves, and three colleagues in South African Police Service (SAPS) uniforms.

The automobile would drive a couple of blocks and are available to a halt, and the plainclothes cop with a sjambok would leap out and chase civilians apparently breaking strict lock-down guidelines. If he caught them, he would beat them with the whip — typically administering as many as eight blows.

“We’re sjambokking folks … Folks can’t be disciplined with out it,” stated the uniformed driver of the automobile. “We don’t wish to see three folks collectively with out carrying something. What are they doing? Then you definately ask, ‘The place are you going?’, [and] they don’t reply.”

He claimed that this sort of pressure was permitted through the nationwide lockdown, and that they have been following orders from “the highest”.

The scene performed itself out over and over, and infrequently a uniformed colleague would take part. Residents in Hillbrow’s crowded condominium buildings watched this police brutality unfold from their balconies, and would jeer every time the policemen bought out of their automobile.

Many residents we spoke to felt they have been on the receiving finish of an extreme and unfair response by the state to the specter of the Covid-19 pandemic

“If the cops discover you standing, protecting on speaking, doing something, they provide the sjambok,” stated one man, standing in a queue exterior a grocery store. He didn’t wish to be recognized. “It’s not okay — the persons are not doing something fallacious. The persons are coming to get what they want. I don’t assume it’s okay for the police to kick everybody, it’s not good.”

Neither SAPS nor the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) had responded to requests for remark by the point of publication.

In a separate incident, we witnessed a uniformed SAPS member hearth rubber bullets to disperse teams of individuals on Kotze Avenue. Residents confirmed that SAPS had been repeatedly utilizing rubber bullets because the starting of the lockdown, and we discovered a number of spent rubber bullet cartridges on the bottom close to a nondescript residential constructing.

Occupants of the constructing complained about police heavy-handedness. The police “include sjambok, and rubber bullets. They’re closing the small outlets; you’ll be able to’t purchase cigarettes or airtime. There’s an excessive amount of queue on the Shoprite,” stated one.

Below the lockdown, folks should stay of their houses and are permitted to depart for very restricted causes solely, reminiscent of to purchase meals or carry out work deemed to be important. 

‘Excessive-rise casual settlements’

However Hillbrow is a low-income neighbourhood and one of the densely populated within the nation. It has suffered many years of neglect and overcrowding, and lots of of its crumbling buildings are what city planner Tanya Zack refers to as “successfully high-rise casual settlements”. Residences are sometimes “informally subdivided, with folks residing in parts of rooms which can be subdivided with curtains”.  

Although a lot quieter than a common Monday and with far fewer vehicles on the roads, there was nonetheless a gradual circulation of individuals via the streets. Residences have been filled with individuals who would usually be at work presently of day, a lot of whom have been hanging out on the balcony.

Lengthy queues snaked out of supermarkets, with most individuals observing social distancing, whereas municipal upkeep crews have been deep cleansing and sanitising the Hillbrow taxi rank.

“It’s impossibly tough to apply social distancing in circumstances the place many individuals could share a single room and the place each room is occupied. And the place some buildings have restricted entry to water and electrical energy. These are conditions through which folks’s solely entry to area and contemporary air could also be open air,” stated Zack.

She added: “In a high-rise constructing, not with the ability to go away your unit could imply not getting contemporary air in any respect. Denying entry to any public area in any respect could have the unintended consequence of confining residents of Hillbrow to insufferable and intensely unsafe circumstances. Homelessness in Hillbrow is rife, and many don’t even have an condominium, or a portion of an condominium, to go to.”

Three homeless folks we spoke to stated they have been rounded up by police and brought to a delegated shelter firstly of the nationwide lockdown final week. They stated they left the shelter due to poor circumstances. Independently, every stated that sanitation on the shelter was poor and that meals was restricted to simply three slices of bread a day.

“They took us there. There’s no meals, no water,” stated Seipati, 24. She stated she believed that the shelters have been harmful, and that folks had died there — a declare we couldn’t independently confirm.

Seipati’s greatest concern was meals: she often begs at a set of site visitors lights in Braamfontein, however couldn’t get there due to the lockdown. “They [the police] are taking pictures us with rubber bullets. After we see them we have now to run.”

Fortunate, a 39-year-old homeless man who begs exterior Pieter Roos Park, stated that he was incomes barely any revenue due to the massively decreased site visitors. “I don’t get meals or no matter. Everyone seems to be struggling.”

Fortunate stated that on Saturday a policeman arrested him and took him to a shelter in Jeppestown, however that he escaped due to the poor circumstances. “All of the individuals who have been there are again now,” he stated.

The story was reported by Micah Reddy from amaBhungane and Simon Allison from the Mail & Guardian.

The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, an unbiased non-profit, produced this story. Like  it? Be an amaB  Supporter to  assist us do extra. Join our newsletter to get extra.