“Disgusting and disheartening” images flooded out of Cape Town’s CBD as police brutalised protesters outside Parliament. Seventeen Gender-based violence (GBV) activists were arrested after Bikers Against Farm Murders allegedly derailed their peaceful protest on Saturday, August 29th.
By Jeremy Simpson & Caitlin MacDonald
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 9 of VARSITY News.
On Saturday, August 29th, Cape Town police arrested anti-GBV protesters marching to Parliament after members of Bikers Against Farm Murders, protesting at the same time, breached a police barricade, instigating the violence.
The protest began peacefully at 11 a.m., where police had set up a barricade preventing protesters from reaching the Parliamentary Precinct. “[Protesters were] met with intimidating police presence”, antigbv_su said in an update posted to their Instagram page, “Adhering to their orders, protesters peacefully gathered on the pavements.” They gathered at the intersection of Roeland and Buitenkant streets.
Ayesha Abou-Zeid, an organiser of the march and a student at Stellenbosch University, noted that organisers were concerned about police intimidation. “There was concern for police presence,” Abou-Zeid explained, “but due to previous protests, we did not expect the violence that ensued on Saturday.”
The National Anti-GBV Collective has accused Bikers Against Farm Murders of attempting to “hijack” their Cape Town protest by aggravating police and then leaving the anti-GBV protesters to face the fallout. According to sources, bikers, who arrived at around 11:30, knocked their motorcycles against police shields and threw a stun grenade back at the police. Anti-GBV protesters have also accused the bikers of verbal harassment.
In a video captured by Cape Town News photographer, Esa Alexander, the police are seen dragging a biker off his motorcycle after he ran over the Roeland/Buitenkant barricade and then attempted to punch an officer. Soon after, smoke engulfed the crowd and loud bangs echoed as police threw stun grenades and tear gas into the crowd.
Video captured by Cape Town News photographer, Esa Alexander shows police dragging a biker off his motorcycle:
— Esa Alexander (@ezaap) August 29, 2020
At this point anti-GBV protesters thought the bikers were expressing their support for the movement. They were not aware that this was a separate protest and so, according to witnesses, the protesters followed the bikers motions to move down Roeland Street to Parliament. “So we thought they were there for us,” explained VARSITY’s Online Editor, Kelsey Maggott. The Bikers stayed at the gates of Parliament for a short time and then began leaving.
Outside Parliament, Thandile Ngxikwe, a student at Stellenbosch University, called for a moment of silence for victims of GBV before being interrupted by police stun grenade blasts and shots into the circle of protesters, many of whom were kneeling. “Police brutality became very real in that moment,” Ngxikwe said. “Had I moved a second later, I would have gotten shot at.” According to witnesses, bikers who had not yet left began leaving after this.
This moment is one that defines our justice system.
Thandile Ngxikwe asking anti-GBV activists outside Parliament to have a moment of silence to mourn the loss of so many women, children and queer bodies. The police respond with tear gas and rubber bullets. pic.twitter.com/tR2MTOoxHw
— Anti-GBV Movement SU (@antigbv_su) August 29, 2020
Various VARSITY editors were at the protests, capturing the scenes as they unfolded. James Braham, the Print Edition Sports Editor, described the police violence which ensued as “disgusting and disheartening.”
Women were dragged on the ground and protesters forced into arresting vehicles by the police, without being given reasons for their arrest and without being read their rights according to witnesses and the National Anti-GBV Collective. Police are also alleged to have pointed firearms with live ammunition at protesters, seen in videos on social media platforms.
In addition, the National Anti-GBV collective has accused the police of failing to adhere to the correct Gatherings Act and lockdown protocols, claiming that, despite the best efforts of the Cape Town organisers to encourage social distancing, the police’s crowd control measures forced protesters to cluster together.
The protest was illegal since the Disaster Management Act prohibits gatherings of over 50 people. Police spokesperson, Captain FC Van Wyk, said reports estimate that the protests in Cape Town were 1000 strong. Ultimately, the police arrested 18 protesters on charges of public violence, malicious property damage, and violations of the Disaster Management Act. Those arrested appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate’s court on Monday, August 31th. According to Ayesha Abou-Zeid, 17 were GBV protesters and one was a biker arrested on a charge of attempted murder. They were released at 1 a.m. on Sunday, August 30th.
The Anti-GBV Collective expressed their vehement reproval of the police response, stating, “We are of the view that we, as women, queer bodies, youth and anti-GBV activists, do not feel safe with the police at our events. Police exude violence.”