South Africa: Still No Answers to Why Police Used a Water Cannon On People in a Sassa Queue

22 February 2021

On 15 January Public Order Police used a water cannon on the queue of people outside the SASSA office in Belville, Cape Town. Photo: Mary-Anne Gontsana

Public Order Police used a water cannon to separate people queuing outside the Bellville SASSA offices on 15 January.

Western Cape MEC for Community Safety Albert Fritz has written to Police Minister Bheki Cele asking for a full report. The Minister's office says the request has been referred to the National Commissioner.

Fritz has also asked the Independent Police Investigative Directorate to investigate. IPID says it is considering the request.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate is considering a request to probe the use by police of a water cannon against people in a social grant queue in Bellville, Cape Town, in January.

Public Order Police turned the water cannon on elderly and disabled grant applicants to enforce social distancing outside the Bellville office of the SA Social Security Agency (SASSA) on 15 January. The incident took place while Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu was visiting the SASSA branch following complaints of overcrowding outside the office and long waiting times for beneficiaries at agency offices across Cape Town.

On 12 February, Western Cape MEC for Community Safety Albert Fritz asked IPID to launch an urgent investigation into the incident. He asked that they investigate and provide clarity on who requested the deployment of SAPS' Public Order Policing unit, which resources were mobilised, and why it was necessary to deploy the resources used, including a water cannon, at a ministerial oversight visit.

The Community Safety Department's Cayla Murray said Fritz had not yet received a response.

IPID spokesperson Ndileka Cola told GroundUp the office had received Fritz's request on Wednesday 17 February. "IPID is in the process of registering and evaluating this request, thereafter a decision will be made," Cola said on 18 February.

Fritz has also written to Police Minister Bheki Cele asking for the full SAPS report on the incident but has yet to receive a response. "This is extremely worrying, as he should treat this as a priority - with the same passion he seemingly pursued beach patrols over the last while," Fritz said in a statement.

Police Ministry Spokesperson Lirandzu Themba said they had received Fritz's letter and have requested the SAPS report from the National Commissioner's office.

The National Commissioner's spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo refused a request by GroundUp for the report, and added: "Any communication or correspondence between offices of government office bearers and the office of the National Commissioner shall remain between those respective offices".

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