‘The community just don’t trust the police’

A South African kung fu champion, who is suing the Minister of Police for assault and wrongful arrest, says the absence of father figures is contributing to youngsters pursuing a life of crime in Hangberg, and if abalone poaching is to be eradicated, police will have to regain the trust of the community.

Peter Michaels, 24, who represented South Africa in Indonesia, China and Hong Kong at the Kung Fu world championships a year ago, was arrested along with 18 suspected abalone poachers in a pre-dawn raid in Hout Bay harbour on Wednesday October 19.

A manager at the Harvest Youth Project in the harbour, Mr Michaels had woken to the sound of gunshots at about 4am. He said he had raced outside on seeing a security guard being shot with a rubber bullet, when he was grabbed by a member of the anti-poaching team.

He claims he was also shot in the leg and struck with a rifle butt, before being bundled off to the cells at Hout Bay police station. Over the course of the next three days, he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison and the cells at Cape Town Central police station before the charges against him were withdrawn

“I have consulted a lawyer, and I will be suing the Minister of Police because of my ordeal,” Mr Michaels said.

“I was scheduled to participate in trials to make the SA (kung fu) team but because of this I couldn’t attend. I have also been invited by a group of American volunteers, who will be visiting the centre in December, to go to the US, but my arrest has put that in jeopardy.”

What made matters worse, Mr Michaels said, was that at the time of his arrest the alleged abalone poachers had told police that he was innocent.

“I was shocked that I was arrested, but I am not surprised. Since the riots in 2010, the Hangberg community just don’t trust the police. When they came in to demolish the houses, they didn’t speak to people in a dignified way. They just moved in and traumatised a lot of children. Those are the same children who are now involved in crime like gangsterism and poaching.

“The cops don’t understand that. The police need to work with the community, to stand together with them.”

He said many social ills in Hangberg could also be linked to fatherless families.

“When I was growing up, my father was in prison. Because men in my community are poor, they turn to crime and start abusing drugs and alcohol. They are never around for their children. That is another reason people turn to gangs, because they want to be accepted.”

In response to the allegations, police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut said: “Due to the individual’s intention to pursue the matter with a civil claim, this office will refrain from commenting on the matter until the process has been finalised.”