Why police did not stop the sheep slaughter on Clifton Fourth Beach
Police have told parliament that they did not act to prevent the controversial slaughtering of a sheep at Clifton Fourth Beach because they were not aware of any law prohibiting it.
In fact, all the evidence presented to the police since the slaughter of the sheep - done to "cleanse the beach" in the wake of racism allegations - had not enabled them to act against the people who killed the animal, according to a senior police officer.
Protesters slaughtered a sheep "to exorcise the demon of racism" after days of rising tension and claims of apartheid-style beach bans in December. This followed an accusation that black beachgoers were unlawfully removed from the beach by a private security company two days before Christmas.
Senior police officers told a parliamentary inquiry into the incident on Monday that they indeed refused to prevent the group of protesters from slaughtering the sheep as they could not think of any law that prohibited the act.
Deputy provincial police commissioner Hendrick Burger, who was on the beach when the incident took place, told the meeting how one of the protesters informed the police that they were going to slaughter a sheep. He claimed they would be exercising their constitutional rights in terms of their beliefs and other rights in the constitution, said Burger.
"We were approached by Cape Town mayor Dan Plato to ask if we were going to stop the slaughtering. We explained to the mayor that we are not going to do so; that we were not even certain about which legislation prohibits slaughtering," said Burger.
Plato indicated that there was a by-law. Burger revealed that Plato had gone as far as asking if the police would support the city's law enforcement officers if they took action to prevent the slaughtering.
"I personally informed the mayor that because the group claimed they were going to execute this ritual as part of their culture, traditions and beliefs, and because of the risk and the mood, we would not be able to stop people from performing these rituals," he said.
He told the mayor to go to the nearest police station if he thought an offence had been committed.
Burger's input was supported by another senior police officer, Jeremy Veary, who was also present at the beach that day and gave advice to the city's law enforcement officers.
Veary told MPs that he said that if law enforcement officers wanted to take any action to prevent the slaughtering, they should not escalate the risk to the safety of other people at the beach, which included children and elderly people.
Veary said he issued this caution, having considered the short distance between the steep stairs, the water mark and the rocks on either side of the beach.
"This was besides the fact that no by-law could be presented," he said.
He argued that the situation itself was not one where there was a protest or a public disorder situation that required deployment of the police.
"It was a ritual slaughter of an animal," he added.
Veary said various charges had been laid relating to the incident, including under the Animal Cruelty Act, which related to causing suffering to an animal while slaughtering.
However, no evidence was presented. Other charges related to the Meat Safety Act but, he said, the conduct of the protesters did not violate either act.
"Slaughtering an animal is not an act of cruelty in South African law. We have a Meat Safety Act which tells you how to slaughter humanely, in a sense. What we had in evidence, we did not see any signs of suffering that would violate those conditions of the slaughtering process as per the act," he said.
He said another charge in relation to the Meat Safety Act, which involved the prohibition of slaughter of animals at places other than abattoirs, did not apply to slaughter for private consumption or for cultural or religious purposes.
"The act is silent on whether it is an offence when you do not apply for permission to slaughter. All the penalties prescribed in the first section of the act do not speak to this particular matter. Therefore, in terms of whatever evidence we gathered, we could not find conduct in terms of the members who were there which violated prohibitions in the act," said Veary.
Professional Protection Alternatives (PPA), the security company at the centre of the controversy, admitted in parliament that it was not acting on the authority of the city of Cape Town. Company director Chris Diedericks said PPA did not have a formal agreement with the city and was not remunerated by the city when it helped with security matters.
The meeting heard that the city had laid charges against PPA for misrepresenting it. At the time of the incident, the company insisted that it was acting on behalf of the city.
Diedericks said on Monday that while they did not have a formal agreement with the city, they were called on occasionally to help as incidents of crime had increased on the beach. The company was mainly hired by individual residents of Clifton and Camps Bay.
Diedericks said PPA should, in fact, be applauded for going beyond the call of duty to protect citizens. He said its officers had merely advised beachgoers about what happened at the beach a week earlier - that there was a security incident which led to the beach being closed early. He said it would be illogical to claim the incident was racial.
Burger told the meeting that, in terms of the law, security guards had a right to protect the property of the people who employed them, meaning their actions were limited to the space or the property of the people they were protecting.
"If they act in assistance of any law enforcement entity, they should do so on the specific request and in the presence of such law enforcement agency," he said.
He said the law did not allow security officials to execute any functions on public property and in public spaces unless it was a very serious offence - and they had no right to enforce by-laws on public beaches.
The police said they had no record of any reported rape in Camps Bay for December or November - alluded to earlier as a reason for warning beachgoers about their safety. There was an incident involving family members and although it was reported to a police station, the family opted not to open any docket.
"That incident could in no way be interpreted to be a risk to the safety of other people. It should never have become a reason to prevent other people from going to the beach. That incident between family members didn't endanger the safety of other citizens," said Burger.
The city's Zahid Badroodien described the entire saga as "a politically manipulated mess". He accused the ANC of exploiting it and the media of blowing it out of proportion.