South Africa: Police Officers Accused of Assault Barred From Community By Angry Residents

20 January 2021

Some Cookhouse residents in the Eastern Cape have barred five police officers from operating in the area.

At least five officers are accused of assaulting a 20-year-old from the community for breaking curfew regulations. The community says it was not the first attack by the police.

Police say the officers have been moved to different units while an investigation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is underway.

The community of Cookhouse in the Eastern Cape has barred five police officers they accuse of using excessive force from operating in the area.

This follows the assault of a 20-year-old who had broken curfew regulations on Christmas night. Last week, Esoyolo Bambiso told GroundUp how he had been standing near his mother's house when police caught him and took him to the Cookhouse police station where they beat him for several hours.

The incident angered residents. They have threatened to retaliate should the officers return to the community after nothing came of a meeting with the station commander on 28 December.

On Tuesday, Bhongolwethu Mema, treasurer of the Cookhouse Community Forum and a member of the South African National Civic Organisation, warned that "all hell will break loose" should the officers be seen in the community again.

"Our meeting collapsed after we asked the station commander to take action against the five police members. Since 2017 these hooligans have been assaulting community members. Every time we report them our cases do not progress," he said.

Mema said the station commander's inaction showed a lack of support for the community the police serve.

"We told the station commander that these five police members will never again be allowed to operate in our community. We only want police who are friendly, not these criminals who beat our people for no good reason."

"All that we wanted was him to exercise his powers. But he told us we are a rude community. In his two years here, he hasn't bothered to call an imbizo with us to introduce himself," he said.

Asked to respond to the allegations by the community, provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana said they were aware of the complaints against the police in Cookhouse. Kinana said that the accused officers had temporarily been moved to another unit while an investigation into the conduct is underway.

Kinana said the matter was referred to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) for investigation. "It must however be stated in no uncertain terms that police cannot be prohibited from discharging their duties within communities. Declaring certain sections of the community 'No Go Areas' for the police will render the law-abiding citizens vulnerable to the criminal elements."

"If communities are not happy with service delivery, legitimate platforms must be used to engage with the police," he said.

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