Tobacco body accuses cops of ‘unlawful raids, manhandling workers’

Picture for illustration. A man is stopped in the street by South African Police Service officers in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on Saturday during a joint operation between the Saps and the South African National Defence Force to enforce a national lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Picture: AFP

Some of the workers ‘had their personal belongings removed from their persons in the most heavy-handed ways imaginable’.

The Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) has released a strongly worded statement, condemning SAPS members for allegedly threatening, manhandling and handcuffing workers at two of its member factories.

None of the workers were arrested, the body said.

Fita did not say where the alleged abuses took place, but said it was “investigating the matters, including reviewing CCTV footage and obtaining witness statements and will register the necessary complaints against those responsible”.

Fita chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said in the statement:

“FITA finds it very disturbing that whilst engaged in court litigation with the State in respect of the banning of sales of cigarettes during the current lock down period, members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) have acted unlawfully against two of our members.

“The behaviour of the relevant SAPS members is made worse by the recent scathing findings by the High Court against heavy-handedness of security forces under the lock down period. To make matters worse, regulations were announced by the Minister of Police to ensure that SAPS members do not transgress laws and rights of South Africans during the lock down period.

“Just as worrying is the fact that it is well known that the State recently raided a multinational tobacco manufacturer in a manner very different to how today’s incidents have played out. It clearly smacks of different treatment for multinationals vis-a-vis local manufacturers reminiscent of conduct by law enforcement agents which was the subject of complaints by FITA members in years gone by.

“During the course of today two of our member factories had their employees subjected to inter alia harassment, and an unwarranted and unlawful “raid” by members of the SAPS.

“In the course of this, some employees of the affected FITA members were inter alia threatened, handcuffed and man-handled, and some had their personal belongings removed from their persons in the most heavy-handed ways imaginable. In addition, following the above-mentioned conduct by members of the SAPS, no charges or arrests flowed from these unsolicited actions.

“FITA and its members further reserve all rights in as far as taking further action against the State in relation to the incidents of today.

“For the moment, the well-being of the employees and their families are a priority for FITA and this is being attended to. If need be, FITA will announce further details and steps taken in due course.”

(Compiled by Carina Koen.)

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