Activists arrested for sit-in protest at NPA

Well-known activist and Unite Behind member, Zackie Achmat, addressing supporters.

Eight activists were arrested and charged with trespassing after staging a sit-in protest at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) offices in Cape Town last week.

The group were calling for President Jacob Zuma to be charged.

As Mr Zuma was preparing for a question-and-answer session in Parliament last week, several activists spent Wednesday night, November 1, in jail.

Among the eight were well-known City Bowl activist Zackie Achmat as well as former Parliament employee Zelda Holtzman. Others in the group were United Behind members Reverend Alan Storey from the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town, Benson Mgqentsu from Khayelitsha of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Zukie Vuka from Delft, June Esau from Ottery, Naeem Frances from Heideveld and Sipho Citabatwa from Gugulethu.

They were charged with trespassing and released with a warning but promised to be back.

The NPA had called for them to be released on condition that they could not enter the NPA offices again but the state dismissed the request.

Addressing supporters outside the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Thursday November 2, Ms Holtzman, of the veterans network of the United Democratic Front ( UDF), said all the activists came from different communities.

“We come here representing the broad front, calling for the arrest of Mr Zuma. We have remained united around that call.”

Ms Holtzman, originally from Bonteheuwel, said it was a deliberate action to confront the NPA. “We fought for a constitution to treat everyone equally and not the president above the law.”

Ms Vuka thanked supporters. “You being here shows that there was a purpose for us being there (in jail). Around 2pm we marched to the NPA offices to ask them to arrest Mr Zuma. We went there to ask why is he getting preference and favours? If it was us, no one would be walking around with the charges.”

She said they went to the NPA to ask National director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams to make the arrest. “We decided to lie down and not do anything. Eventually we were handcuffed and went to the Central police station,” she said.

Ms Vuka said the eight were told they were going to be released but were instead kept in jail overnight. “We are glad to be outside and continuing the struggle. It does not end here, this is just the beginning.”

Mr Mgqentsu added: “We are coming out of prison, stronger than any other moment. The SACP in the province came out in support of Unite Behind. We took a decision that Zuma must step down. If it was me or you we would be in prison. Coming out of prison we are saying that we are not gangsters but Zuma is a gangster. How our country is run is indicating that our government is becoming a Mafia state.”

He added that the people who were affected by corruption the most, were the poor and working class. “You are going to be victims of retrenchment. You are not going to be able to afford bread and milk.” Ms Esau, another UDF veteran, said that together they were strong. “Together we shall achieve what so many others before us fought for. We represent millions of voices that say arrest Zuma.” Mr Achmat said their power was in unity.

“Our voices will be strong enough. Our voices will be louder than any gun, than any cannon.”

He said that corruption in government affected working class people the most. “I want to ask you to join us. To make sure on Thursday November 30 we go to the NPA offices and we say arrest us or arrest Zuma.”

The advocate representing the group, Mustaque Holland of the Women’s Legal Centre, told the court that all of the accused were supposed to be released the day before.

“I don’t know what transpired. The accused were engaged in peaceful demonstration, a sit-in and there was no violence. In the circumstance I request that they be released without conditions.”

Mr Holland also told the court that several of the accused did not receive serious life-saving medication because they had to stay in jail overnight.

“They could only take the medication this morning,” he said.

The matter was postponed for further investigation and the eight were told to appear in court again on Tuesday December 5.