WATCH | Police accused of 'absurd' use of water canon, stun grenades to quell hospitality industry protest

24 July 2020 - 14:50
By Aron Hyman
DA parliamentary chief whip Natasha Mazzone outside Truth Coffee shop in Cape Town after a police crackdown on hospitality industry protesters.
Image: Esa Alexander/Twitter DA parliamentary chief whip Natasha Mazzone outside Truth Coffee shop in Cape Town after a police crackdown on hospitality industry protesters.

Restaurateurs, coffee shops, an internet cafe, and DA shadow minister for transport Manny de Freitas were drenched by a police water cannon during a hospitality industry protest outside parliament on Friday.

DA parliamentary chief whip Natasha Mazzone said colleague De Freitas was blasted off his feet by a police water cannon used to disperse the “peaceful protest” along with stun grenades.

As riot police dispersed protesters down Buitenkant Street the water cannon sprayed blasts into the popular Truth Coffee shop, an internet cafe and at guests dining at the Swan Café, according to Mazzone.

“I’ve asked the shadow minister of police Andrew Whitfield to contact the owners of Truth because one of their waitresses was hurt when the water cannon was opened in their shop,” she said.

“I’ve asked the internet cafe owner, whose shop is destroyed, his computers are ruined, because his shop is flooded. I was ankle deep in water in his shop, to lay charges with [the Independent Police Investigative Directorate] Ipid. I’m going to lay charges with Ipid  about what I saw and we are taking it forward from there,” said Mazzone.

Hospitality staff and restaurant owners have been protesting since Wednesday, complaining that lockdown restrictions, including limitations on trading hours due to a curfew, limited capacity due to social distancing regulations, and the liquor ban were decimating the industry with many restaurants closing.

Western Cape MEC for finance and economic opportunities David Maynier said he had  repeatedly called for the lifting of restrictions on the industry, including the unbanning of  accommodation for leisure which would see hotels and guest houses operating again.

“Our tourism and hospitality industry is hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and the current restrictions are having a major impact on these businesses who are facing severe job losses and closure,” said Maynier.

“We have repeatedly called for the opening of these businesses where they are able to do so safely and responsibly through engagements with the minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the minister of tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane,” he said.

“Instead of a constructive and common-sense response, the tourism and hospitality sector has been subject to flip flopping, uncertainty and today, an unnecessary use of violence in response to a peaceful protest,” said Maynier.

“This is completely unjustifiable considering the lengths that the industry has gone to to put in place the necessary safety measures to stop the spread of Covid-19. These businesses can open safely and they should be allowed to do so,” he said.

Safety and security MEC Albert Fritz condemned the police action as a “heavy-handed and unwarranted response to a reported peaceful protest”.  

Taking a swipe at the police’s alleged lack of response to help Cape Town law enforcement authorities to quell land invasions across the city and the province, he accused the police service of hypocrisy and a disproportionate response of force in the CBD on Friday “while arguing that they are under-resourced and unable to adequately attend to violent and malicious protest action elsewhere”.

“It is reported that the peaceful protesters were standing outside parliament in a socially distanced manner while holding placards. They then began to form a human chain separated by 1.5m long ribbon,” read a safety and security ministry statement.

“At which point the police informed the protesters that they were not within their rights to protest. They then said that the protesters had two minutes to disperse and proceeded to use water guns and set off stun grenades,” it read.

“It is absurd that SAPS and the SANDF are not able to fully mobilise enough resources to respond adequately to violent protests in areas which are experiencing looting, public violence, land invasions, destruction of property and barricading of roads; and yet they are able to mobilise water cannons and stun grenades at the drop of a hat to disperse peaceful protests,” said Fritz.

He said he had raised the matter with Western Cape provincial commissioner Lt-Gen Yolisa Matakata.

“It is essential that SAPS’ Public Order Policing’s (POP) protocol be urgently reviewed to ensure that their response is adequate and proportional to the threat experienced,” said Fritz.

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