Cape Town’s mayoral committee has defended the controversial riot-control methods of South African Police Service and city law enforcement officers in Hout Bay’s Hangberg fishing settlement, claiming that they had to defend themselves when they fell into a four-hour ambush.
The city’s Democratic Alliance mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, also suggested that attempts to blame the city for injuries sustained by residents were part of a “dirty tricks” campaign against the DA-led city government.
Four people claim to have lost an eye during running battles between residents and police over two days last month, sparked by shack demolitions. Many other residents and police personnel were injured.
The police response — officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas at residents armed with petrol bombs, flares and smoke grenades — is now under investigation by the Independent Complaints Directorate and the South African Police Service.
Smith said that he was saddened by the violence, but that “looking at the footage, I don’t think it could have turned out any other way”.
“I understand that people get emotional if a structure they erected, albeit illegally, is dismantled in front of them. But that is not what happened here. SAPS, metro police and law enforcement were ambushed. That siege lasted for four hours.”
Smith said the city’s police team had worked under SAPS orders during the operation. Though some people were trying to blame metro police and law enforcement officers for the injuries to residents, this was merely part of a “dirty tricks” campaign against the DA-run administration.
“There were several Nyalas [armoured personnel carriers] on site. The city’s staff only had one,” said Smith. “Most people said that they were hit by rubber bullets fired by officers in Nyalas. But the officers were highly justified in defending themselves. To ambush them like that was attempted murder.”
Smith said residents had stockpiled weapons including bricks, petrol bombs and flare guns after Western Cape Premier and DA leader Helen Zille warned them at a public meeting to remove the illegal shacks or the city’s land invasion unit would tear them down.