GBV protests: Students and biker appear in court after violent clashes outside parliament

31 August 2020 - 16:33
Police grab a demonstrator in front of parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Police grab a demonstrator in front of parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Image: Esa Alexander

Sixteen protesters - among them students and at least one biker - have been released on warning and told to appear in court in six weeks' time after clashes with police in Cape Town at the weekend.

On Saturday, protesters took to the streets in the Mother City to display outrage and demand action in the wake of frequent gender-based violence incidents in SA.

But tensions quickly spiralled as protesters, including a second group of bikers taking aim at farm murders, clashed with police stationed near parliament.

Gender-based violence protesters outside parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Gender-based violence protesters outside parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Image: Esa Alexander

In total, 16 people were arrested and appeared in the Cape Town magistrate's court on Monday on charges of public violence. They were all released and told to appear in court again on October 13.

The 16 protesters, almost all students and some as young as 19, appeared after lawyers secured their release at about 2am on Sunday morning.

They were part of a group of hundreds of people who peacefully protested on the corner of Roseland and Buitenkant streets on Saturday in remembrance of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 20-year-old student whose rape and murder in August last year added to SA's grim violence against women and children statistics.

Police grab a demonstrator in front of parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Police grab a demonstrator in front of parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Image: Esa Alexander

But one of those arrested was a member of the large biker protest against farm murders. Police had planned for this protest and set up a cordon to stop them from going near parliament's front entrance.

The trouble seemingly started when the bikers arrived and broke through the police line, demanding their right to be able to protest outside parliament. The police barricade prevented them from getting close to the parliamentary precinct, and lockdown regulations prohibit large crowds from gathering.

A biker was allegedly caught on video exchanging blows with a police officer as the bikers forced through the police line.

After nationwide GBV protests spread in SA in September 2019 following Uyinene Mrwetyana’s murder, design student Katie de Bruyn created a mug design in response to the “men are trash” hashtag and dialogue on Twitter. She has since been selling mugs to raise awareness on issues around gender-based violence in South Africa and donating the proceeds to the Frida Hartley shelter for homeless women in Johannesburg.

After they broke through, the two protesting groups converged outside parliament. They were about to hold a moment of silence for women and children murdered in South Africa when police allegedly took action to disperse the crowd, sparking clashes and arrests.

Video footage showing the events was captured by the Sunday Times and shows protracted clashes between riot police and both groups of protesters.

Anthony Berinato, a legal representatives of some of the accused, told the court on Monday that there was CCTV footage of Saturday's events from parliament's camera system. He questioned why that footage hadn't yet been obtained by the police, as it would expedite the investigation and prove whether his clients were guilty.

He and other lawyers said their clients were students and would be writing exams soon.

The prosecution argued that there were also bystanders whose statements could help their case. But the court questioned whether the state knew who the bystanders were.

The case was postponed to October 13 for the state to investigate its case against the accused. They were released on a warning to return to court then.

Gender-based violence demonstrators kneel in the street in front of parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Gender-based violence demonstrators kneel in the street in front of parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Image: Esa Alexander

One of the students who was arrested, David Shields, told TimesLIVE after his court appearance that he joined the protest on Saturday after a call on social media to “celebrate the life and mourn the death of Uyinene” - “and, of course, all of those females who have been slain at the hands of men over the past year, but also the last decade and even longer”.

“It was more of a remembrance and to be there to march in solidarity with the young females, the old females, and just a space for people to be heard.

“It was an incredibly emotional event. There were tears streaming down the faces of so many people, in particular females who have been victimised or who were otherwise there in support of friends or family who have been victimised,” he said.

A police officer grabs a protester against gender-based violence outside parliament on August 29 2020.
A police officer grabs a protester against gender-based violence outside parliament on August 29 2020.
Image: Esa Alexander

Lawrence Swallows was one of the bikers protesting on Saturday. He was outside court waiting for his fellow bikers on Monday.

The Cape Town bikers' protest was part of action across SA in solidarity with victims of farm murders, an issue which they claim government is denying is a problem. They said the brutality of farm attacks meant they deserved greater state attention.

But in Cape Town, Swallows said they felt that their protest needed to address the various forms of violence and the state's inability to protect its citizens. Therefore they rode under the banner “South Africans against racism and crime”.

“We, in Cape Town, decided not just to focus on farm murders. Cape Town is a very violent place. We thought just focusing on farmers won't serve justice to everyone else.

A gender-based violence protester confronts police near parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
A gender-based violence protester confronts police near parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Image: Esa Alexander

“We all came there for a purpose and I think it was aligned in one way or another, even though it was two separate groups. The long and the short of it is we were all trying to get a message across that we are unhappy about the way things are going in the country, and all crimes should be taken seriously, along with gender-based violence,” said Swallows.

Biking fraternities in the Western Cape have ridden in protest against gender-based violence in the past, specifically during the funeral of Hannah Cornelius, a student who was raped and murdered in 2017, and after fellow biker Zelda van Niekerk was murdered in 2018.

Gender-based violence demonstrators are engulfed in smoke from a police grenade near parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Gender-based violence demonstrators are engulfed in smoke from a police grenade near parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Image: Esa Alexander

Swallows said their protest had been planned and advertised for a month before Saturday's protest, but various applications to protest were turned down by the police - including one which was turned down at the last moment.

“The bikers came there. They wanted to go to parliament. It was agreed that we would end up there and hand over a petition. Obviously that didn't take place. We were going to end it in a prayer and then disperse,” said Swallows.

He said they had no intention of being aggressive but he did not blame the police for taking the action they took.

“It's a protest. The police did what they were instructed to do and the bikers did what they had to do. After we broke through the police line there was no more tension between the police and the bikers,” said Swallows.

Gender-based violence protesters in front of parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Gender-based violence protesters in front of parliament in Cape Town on August 29 2020.
Image: Esa Alexander

He said, however, that the police's handling of the students was “uncalled for”.

“They could have handled it slightly better. The place looked like a war zone. The protesters were never going to do anything other than what they were doing; they just wanted to get a message across. If you consider what a protest is about, if the police tell you to sit and you sit then, I mean, you might as well have stayed home.

“With all the tension in the air and everything going wrong with the police, I think they should just handle the youth a little better and be more sensitive,” he said.


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