The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is concerned about the poor cooperation it said it is receiving from the City of Cape Town in its investigation into the eviction of a naked man from his Khayelitsha home on Wednesday.
Cape Town mayor Dan Plato and members of his mayoral committee and city officials had to account to the Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs on Friday evening on the events of Wednesday.
The incident in Khayelitsha caused widespread outrage after a naked Bulelani Qolani was filmed being chased and tackled by law enforcement officers during an eviction in eThembeni, Khayelitsha.
The City was roundly condemned by MPs for the incident, with ANC and EFF MPs questioning the City’s attitude towards its poor, black residents.
SAHRC commissioner Mohamed Ameermia described the incident as “unfortunate, disgraceful”.
“The Human Rights Commission is extremely disturbed by what is going on out there,” he said.
SAHRC COO Chantal Kisoon said the commission is “concerned about the reluctance to cooperate with the commission”.
DA MP Haniff Hoosen said he takes issue with the commission already expressing opinions before it has concluded its investigation. He said this erodes the independence of the commission.
Opening the meeting, chairperson Faith Muthambi said July is one of the coldest months of the year in Cape Town and the country is still under a state of disaster.
“This is a matter of national importance. We can’t fold our arms,” Muthambi said.
She said the committee doesn’t endorse unlawful occupations, but it objects to the “distasteful manner in which the city law enforcement conducts these evictions”.
“Where we come from, how does one justify evicting a naked man in this dispensation that is premised on the values of human dignity?
“We believe, as a committee, such evictions are unwarranted, cruel and makes a mockery of the democratic gains we’ve made as a country.”
Plato said it is an isolated incident, which he regrets.
“That is not what we want to happen in our municipality,” he said.
He said they have suspended the four officers involved and appointed an independent body to investigate the incident.
Plato said according to video footage, Qolani was “roaming” the structures before he went into his shack” and “made himself naked” without a law enforcement officer present.
According to Plato, he then went outside in front of everybody and without a law enforcement officer and “roamed in front of his structure, already naked”.
The City gave a presentation of the importance of the site where the incident happened – eThembeni, which is opposite the Zandvliet Waste Water works. The City said it is of paramount importance for the provision of bulk services to Khayelitsha.
The City also insisted it didn’t act in contravention of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations, as there was a court order allowing them to remove new structures. Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said they were shocked by the “images we saw”.
“Anytime one sees this inhumanity or dehumanisation or a person’s dignity affected, one is shocked and must call for immediate action.”
He said he, therefore, supported the suspension of the four officers involved.
Smith said they take ethics and discipline seriously and has suspended more than 30 law enforcement officers since the start of the lockdown in March.
The City’s executive director for safety and security Richard Bosman said the matter was brought to his attention around 17:00 on Wednesday, and by 19:30 the four officers were suspended.
He said they have received information that the event was staged, but don’t condone their staff’s actions.
Bosman said Qolani laid a charge with the police. Police had already contacted him, and he said the City will cooperate.
ANC MP Pretty Xaba-Ntshaba said the incident reminded her of apartheid.
“Do you still have the mentality of apartheid, City of Cape Town?” she said. “Do you love people? But not black people?”
Hoosen said land occupation was a problem across the country, but he couldn’t accept the way it was conducted.
He said law enforcement officers had to be prepared for such instances.
“The law has to be enforced, but it has to be done in a way that is humane.”
EFF MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi asked: “Why are you hating black people like this in Cape Town? I have to tell you to your face that this is not good leadership.”
She and ANC MP Bheki Hadebe said it appeared they had already reached a conclusion before the investigation has been concluded.
“It is clear the mayor is not impartial in this case,” Hadebe said.
Plato said he understands the seriousness of the matter and his apology wasn’t a public relations exercise.
“We will not influence the investigation,” he said.
“I want to give you assurance that there is no hating of black people,” he said.
“If I hated a black person, I wouldn’t be in this position. I’ve got a lot of black friends. I regard many of my black friends as my brothers and sisters.”
Several MPs wanted the national Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to investigate. Al Jama-ah MP Ganief Hendricks even wanted the City to be put under administration.
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said as the police are already investigating, it would be a duplication for her department to also investigate.
She said she phoned Plato earlier about evictions and was concerned that it was continuing.