Activists arrested after chaining themselves to Cape Town civic centre

12 September 2013 - 17:27 By Sapa
Zachie Achmat. File photo
Zachie Achmat. File photo
Image: Sapa

Treatment Action Campaign founder Zachie Achmat and 18 Social Justice Coalition (SJC) activists were arrested for illegally gathering outside the Cape Town civic centre, an SJC official said on Thursday.

SJC general secretary Phumeza Mlungwana, one of those arrested, said they chained themselves to railings on Wednesday morning because of frustration over sanitation provision in Khayelitsha.

She said there had been many memorandums, meetings and lawyer's letters to the city in the past two years regarding clarification on how a sanitation policy would be implemented.

The city recently introduced a janitorial service to informal settlements, which the SJC welcomed.

Mlungwana said it was, however, important for those who lived in the area to be included in all plans so they could understand how to assist with monitoring the service.

"They should be able to set priorities because they are beneficiaries of the project."

She said the relationship with the city had recently deteriorated because of a lack of communication.

"Our membership felt we needed to take some action and that action was urgent... We tried to engage within the framework of the law, but clearly we have a different understanding of how this process should go," she said.

"The idea was actually that, if we were there, maybe she [mayor Patricia de Lille] might find time to meet with us."

Cape Town utility services councillor Ernest Sonnenberg called the protest an "obvious publicity stunt".

"The city has had extensive engagements with the SJC over the last two years -- this as a result of a genuine desire to co-operate wherever possible," he said.

"The executive mayor has provided two possible dates for a meeting to discuss their latest demands, but they have yet to respond. It is therefore puzzling that they state that the mayor is unwilling to engage."

Mlungwana said they were told in July that October was the first available date for a meeting but that the SJC believed it was too late for such an urgent matter.

They chained themselves because they knew they would be chased away without speaking to De Lille. Some members then left with the keys to the lock.

Police and the mayoral committee safety unit warned the activists to leave or be arrested for an illegal gathering.

The group told police that while they respected their position, they would not move.

The chains were cut, the group was arrested, and taken to Cape Town central police station.

Mlungwana said they were held for 10 hours and released on warning after 10pm.

Lt-Col Andre Traut confirmed 19 people, aged 18 to 51, were arrested.

"The circumstances surrounding the matter are under investigation and the arrested persons will be charged in due course, whereafter they are expected to appear in court.

"The identities of those who were arrested are not disclosed."

Sonnenberg said the city employed 800 trained cleaners to clean toilets in informal settlements.

"There will always be management challenges in a programme of this nature, and the city has sought to respond to these as they arise."

He said that while the city acted in good faith discussing the roll-out of the janitor service, it was not an SJC-led initiative.

"It is disappointing that the SJC resorted to an obvious gimmick to create publicity, instead of sincerely engaging with the city, as we have always done with them."

Those arrested are expected to appear in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court on September 18.

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