By Candice Bailey and Lynnette Johns
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Mitchells Plain traders protested on Friday following an earlier "brutal" raid on the Town Centre, but police say they will act again because the area is a hotbed of crime.
On Thursday night the police allegedly went on a rampage, destroying 1 000 stalls and property and storming several flats above Mitchells Plain Town Centre shops, in a bid to remove illegal traders and aliens and to hunt for drugs.
The huge operation resulted in the arrest of 13 illegal immigrants and nine other people for possession of small amounts of tik and heroin.
A large consignment of stolen goods - gold chains, cellphones and copper wire - were also seized. Several outlets suspected of selling stolen goods have since been closed down in the Town Centre.
Western Cape Community Safety MEC Leonard Ramatlakane threw his weight behind the operation, saying it was part of a broader plan to address the challenge of crime, drug-peddling and organised crime in the area.
He called the area a "hot-bed of criminal activity".
However, he added: "We regret it when police are allegedly brutal during the execution of their duty. We do not encourage such action."
The police action was slammed by the City of Cape Town, which said police had destroyed months of work by city officials - who had convinced the traders to move to an alternative site - and deprived traders of their living.
On Friday morning there was a tense stand-off between the traders and the police outside the police station. Riot police were called in to disperse the angry traders. The normally busy open-air mall was in a shambles, with broken-down stalls littering the pavements, traders unable to work, and most shops closed.
Somali traders who live in rooms above shops in the centre said the police used excessive brutality when they broke down the stands, forcing their way into homes by breaking locks. Traders alleged that the police also had taken valuables and money.
Their claims of brutality were borne out by Mayco member for economic development and tourism Simon Grindrod, who rushed to the town centre on Thursday night.
On Friday, Grindrod met Ramatlakane, who gave him the assurance that he would investigate allegations of police brutality and return the confiscated stalls.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Billy Jones said the raid was a joint operation between police, metro police and immigration services to remove the illegal traders and arrest illegal foreigners operating in the area.
But Grindrod said the metro police had not been part of destroying the stalls.
"They had assisted in the drugs raid. At no stage was the city informed that such a large-scale operation would be taking place. Metro police said they would not take part in a raid to remove the traders as the city and the traders had an agreed- upon plan," Grindrod said.
Months of intense negotiations with the traders now hung in the balance following the raid. The traders had agreed to move to an alternative site in the Town Centre on April 1.
Grindrod said: "I saw how the police dragged a pregnant woman across the road into the police station," he said.
The Somali woman, who said she had been kicked in the stomach, was admitted to GF Jooste hospital after she started bleeding.
Another trader, Deeqa Adan said police who broke into her room stole R27 600 she had been counting.
And Samai Ebrahim, a 25-year-old mother of two, had a black eye after a police officer allegedly kicked her when they raided her home.
On Friday, after traders had discovered their stands had been dismantled during the night, they marched to the Mitchells Plain police station, where a standoff developed.
Riot police covered the entrance to the police station while traders screamed profanities at them.
Gaironeesa van der Berg, who has sold sweets, chips and chocolates at the Town Centre for 19 years, said: "This is my bread and butter. My children have been able to go to university as a result of me trading here. How can they do this? How can they just come and ruin our daily bread?"
Van der Berg is only one of 1 000 traders who were angered by the police's actions. On Friday they demanded that shops not open their doors if they could not trade, reducing the Town Centre to a virtual ghost town.
Only traders stood around trying to see what they could salvage and waiting for news on whether or not they could trade.
Abdulkader Karakoos, the Mitchells Plain chairperson of the Somali Community Board, said there was a cover blocking the CCTV cameras and the agreement that the traders had with the police was that the cover would be taken off and the traders would only move on April 1.
"But the police came and spoilt everything," said Karakoos. "We are feeling very bad.
"We don't have any other choice. This is our life. This is how we pay for our bread and our rent and our children's school fees."
However, police sources said the traders were operating illegally and had a designated undercover section to trade in.
One source said the traders' presence in certain places was blocking the view of the CCTV cameras which kept a check on the avid drug trading at night in the mall. The source said the traders had been warned repeatedly to move.
Ramatlakane said businesses had been complaining to the police for a while because of the trade in stolen goods and drug dealing.
"It was time for the police to do something and Thursday night's action by the police should be hailed as a positive step towards addressing crime, organised crime and drugs in Mitchells Plain," he said.
Source: Cape Argus, Mar 15, 2008