Police use rubber bullets to disperse ‘unruly crowd’ protesting over death due to police action

The police amendment bill has been criticised for centralising power. Picture for illustration: Ashraf Hendricks / GroundUp

Ipid says they are investigating a death as a result of police action after a suspect the police allegedly believed was in possession of an unlicensed firearm died in hospital due to injuries.

Protest action flared up in Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, on Sunday evening, spilling over into the wee hours of Monday following the death of a man allegedly “as a result of police action”.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) has confirmed in a statement that it is investigating the matter which resulted in protests on Sunday evening which saw protesters blockading a road in Ulundi and allegedly pelting vehicles with stones.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said the protest action broke out on Sunday at around 8pm, with protesters blocking the R66 Road in Mbilane, Ulundi.

“They were also throwing stones at vehicles. Police had to use rubber bullets to disperse the unruly crowd. A total of five suspects aged between 36 and 45 were arrested last night for public violence. They are expected to appear today [Monday] before the Mahlabathini Magistrate’s Court,” said Gwala.

“Again today [Monday] at 2am, a group of about 3 000 people gathered and blockaded the R66 Road with burning tyres and rubble. The route in the Ulundi CBD [has] also been blockaded by the taxi drivers. The Public Order Police [POP] and local police are at the scene to stabilise the situation.”

Ipid spokesperson Ndileka Cola said the police had allegedly acted on information they had obtained that “the deceased” was in possession of an unlicensed firearm.

“The deceased was allegedly at his girlfriend’s place when police arrived and demanded a firearm from him. The deceased allegedly denied having a firearm, police officers locked themselves up in the bedroom with the deceased, as alleged the deceased was heard crying in agony,” Cola said.

“After a short while, police left with the deceased who was handcuffed, the police allegedly did not explain where nor why they were taking [the] deceased, they just left.

“As alleged, after a while the deceased came back alone in a terrible state, very weak and vomiting blood. Upon realising that his situation was getting worse, he was taken to a local clinic for medical attention. The clinic transferred him to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.”

Cola said officials from Ipid will wait until the “volatile” situation in the area “subsides so they can acquire witness statements”.

“The directorate will attend the post-mortem session on Tuesday in KwaNongoma,” she said.

“Ipid investigators will be gathering all necessary information and evidence as part of the investigation process that will inform any action and recommendations by the directorate.”

During the Monday launch of the Ipid hotline number 0800-111-696, Ipid executive director Jennifer Ntlatseng said witnesses were coming forward to the directorate with information linked to the matter and that the Ipid was engaging with the relevant laboratories when it comes to ballistics testing and a post-mortem.

Speaking at the same launch, Police Minister Bheki Cele said he was aware that the Ipid was investigating the matter and that at around 4am to 5am on Monday, protesters allegedly wanted to attack police officers from Mahlabathini and Ulundi but the POP were present to diffuse the situation.

Cele said there still was some tension in the area, though the “situation is under control”.

The minister said at around 5am on Monday he was woken up by a phone call from a member of the community who asked him whether Cele was still asleep while community members were dying in the area.

Cele said he urged the caller that there should be an amicable way to resolve the matter and that he has spoken to the KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner and will later talk to political leaders in the area about the situation.

Cele said there had been calls for him to visit the area, but since promises have been made that the matter will be settled, he said he did not think that he will visit.

Meanwhile, Cele said he has repeatedly stated that the arrest of police officers, regardless of their rank, “doesn’t give us comfort”, “but it’s correct”.

This after a high ranking police officer on Monday morning was arrested following a raid at her house.

“It’s a situation that will leave you sad, but it will leave you perplexed if the right thing is not done,” Cele said, adding that the police would not stop arresting their own who are accused of wrongdoing.

Ntlatseng said the Ipid was investigating over 300 cases of allegations levelled against SAPS members during the Covid-19 lockdown.

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