Press Statement: Police must stop their harassment, violence and criminal activity against Zama Zamas (artisanal/ informal miners) in Langlaate (Johannesburg)
26 November 2019
In recent months there have been numerous reports received of police brutality meted against artisanal miners (otherwise known as Zamazamas) operating in the Langlaagte area. In response to these reports, support organisations such as the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and the Benchmarks Foundation have visited the area on a number of occasions and are working in collaboration with CSOs such as ILRIG, the SA Human Rights Commission and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) to further investigate the reports and provide support to the Zamazamas.
Every time that visits have been made to Langlaagte, acts of police brutality, intimidation, assault and general criminality have taken place in our presence or just as we were leaving the area. To make things worse, in carrying out their illegal acts, SAPS members do not wear name tags/badges, thus concealing their identity.
In the latest incident (on 21st November), a group of miners were assaulted and robbed of cash by the police. One of the miners who was beaten was seriously injured had to be taken (by the support organisations) to Helen Joseph Hospital for assessment and treatment.
This was not an isolated incident. Members of Langlaagte SAPS (mostly junior officers) have literally been camping at the George Harrison Park which is adjacent to the abandoned mines. The purpose of this presence has now become all too clear – to regularly rob or extort money from any person whom they find in the park whether such person is an artisan miner or someone they suspect of being one.
On behalf of the Zamazamas, LRC’s Edwin Makwati has made many attempts to get senior officers at SAPS Langlaagte (Lt. Col. Sibande, Captain Mampa and Capt. Billing) to not only acknowledge the illegal and criminal acts of its members but to put a stop to them. So far these attempts have been met with varying degrees of denialism, hostility, arrogance, indifference, xenophobic attitudes and, a complete failure to take any corrective action.
Amazingly, during the last visit to SAPS Langlaagte (on 21st November following the latest criminal activity by the police), when Lt. Col. Sibande was requested to talk to his men and order them to stop the assaults, he said that speaking to them would not make a difference because they do not listen to him. This is confirmation that Lt. Col. Sibande is either trying to find more sorry excuses not to act, or he is incapable of controlling the actions of his subordinates (making his position as commanding officer untenable).
As a result, a criminal case of assault was filed at the Brixton SAPS against SAPS Langlaagte for the violence meted out on the hospitalised miner. Further, two other Zamazamas who were arrested during the incident on the 21st under the flimsiest of charges were held at the Brixton SAPS cells for 3 days and appeared yesterday morning at the Newlands Magistrates Court. The support organisations organised for legal representation and as expected, the charges were dropped and the two miners released. Counter-charges against SAPS Langlaagte for unlawful arrest and detention have now been filed.
Everyone who lives and works in South Africa has a right to be treated equally under the law. Whatever the various issues are around the presence and activities of the Zamazamas might be (issues that need to be properly discussed and approached within the framework of relevant policies and laws), there is no excuse for the police to act outside the law and engage in illegal activities – doing so makes them no better than uniformed criminals and vigilantes.
FOR FURTHER COMMENT CONTACT:
– Edwin Makwati (Openness & Accountability Legal Researcher at the LRC) on 078 747 5343
– Dale McKinley (ILRIG Research & Education Officer) on 072 429 4086