An Imizamo Yethu couple are pressing assault charges against City law enforcement officers after the woman was allegedly pepper-sprayed and manhandled during an operation to demolish part of her shack.
The couple, Joyce Belem and boyfriend Rasta Makizo, have shown the Sentinel video footage of the incident on Wednesday April 18.
This shows Ms Belem being held back by an officer and later emerging from her shack clutching her face, which seems swollen. A neighbour then hands her a cloth to wipe her face.
Later in the video, she appears to have an altercation with another officer. Officers also walk towards the gathered crowd brandishing what appears to be pepper-spray canisters.
According to Ms Belem, who lives with Mr Makizo and their four-year-old son in Mlangene Street, they were informed by the City on Monday April 2 that they were not allowed to add a second storey to their shack.
“My sister is very sick in East Londonso we want her to come and live with us. That was why we were building the new rooms,” she said. “Last Wednesday, at about nine o’clock in the morning, I got a call from my neighbour while I was at work to tell me my house was being destroyed by workers from the City.”
When she arrived home, neighbours and other members of the community had gathered around the house, shouting and asking what the workers thought they were doing.
“They were using chainsaws and crowbars to tear down part of the house where we were building. The community was telling them to stop, but they weren’t listening.”
Mr Makizo had also arrived home to the “chaos”.
“There were law enforcement officers everywhere. Joyce wanted to get the stuff out of the house before they destroyed everything, and she told them that. But they didn’t want to listen.”
Ms Belem said at that point she had been approached by one officer who had pepper sprayed her in the face inside the shack.
At that stage, the number of residents had swelled, prompting officers to threaten to pepper spray them, she said.
“They were shouting, ‘What about our rights?’” MR Makizo said. “But law enforcement didn’t like that.”
He said he found it strange that the City workers had stopped demolishing the shack once the crowd had been dispersed.
The half where the couple had already added a second storey was left intact, save for one wall of the living area which remains open.
After being pepper sprayed, Ms Belem went to a neighbour’s house to wash the chemical from her eyes. She then went for treatment at the clinic before laying a complaint at the Hout Bay police station.
She showed the Sentinel a copy of the case number she was given by police, but Hout Bay police spokeswoman Warrant Officer Tanya Lesch said she was unable to comment and directed queries to the City.
The City’s executive director for safety and security, Richard Bosman, said the law enforcement department was not aware of the incident and no formal complaint had been lodged.
“In cases where allegations are made against staff, we encourage the complainants to come forward with information so that the matter may be investigated. They can contact the office of our head of internal and civilian affairs on 021 427 5124,” he said.
“We also encourage complainants to lay criminal charges with the South African Police Service, which appears to have been done in this instance. The City will co-operate fully with the police investigation.”
Mr Makizo said the couple found it strange that police were not even informed that they were going to demolish their house.
“We are asking whether someone in the community who doesn’t like us sent these people here. We don’t understand.”
The couple said they had never had any enemies in all the 11 years they had lived in Imizamo Yethu.
“We want the officers who assaulted Joyce to be brought to justice. It is unacceptable. When my son came back from creche and saw what had happened he asked me, ‘Daddy, why is the house like this?’ It is terrifying.”
Suzette Little, the City’s mayoral committee member for area north, said the couple’s home had not been singled out.
“When the request to build up was received previously, approximately two months ago, the City explained that it does not allow the extension of units for people who do not permanently reside with the family. The complainant, however, decided to carry on without the permission of the City and hence erected an illegal structure,” she said.
“The City must manage the growth of informal settlement areas. If it does not do this, it jeopardises service delivery and could expose more people to the risks of fires and floods.” The City also received complaints from members of the public who said they felt it would be unfair for the City to allow this extension while they were prevented from doing same, she said.
“Just nearby, for instance, another resident attempted to build a second storey but the community complained to the City about this. The City engaged with that resident who understood the City’s concerns and the extension was taken down by the resident.”
Ms Little said the City contractor that removed one section of the double storey could not complete the task due to “limited accessibility”. “There was a lot of building materials in the inside of the smaller structure. The City did not want to cause damage to the original structure,” she said.
Law enforcement did not respond to queries at the time this edition went to print.