Rights body blasts cops for raiding poor people’s homes looking for looted goods
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Johannesburg - The Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) has expressed concern with the police raids on people’s homes in Sebokeng, near the Vaal, in pursuit of looted goods from the unrest that gripped Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal a few days ago.
Disturbing images of police breaking into some shacks and raiding people’s homes got many questioning the legality of the police campaign to retrieve stolen goods.
SERI executive director Nomzamo Zondo said there were several problems with the raids, including that those police seemed to be targeting the poor and the marginalised.
In the raids food items were seized, appliances and, in some cases, building material. Zondo said it was not even clear if police had a warrant to search and seize goods from people’s homes.
“The reality is that they should get a warrant. It seems that they are not using some system. They are not sure what they are looking for; there are multiple rights that are being infringed, including the right to privacy under section 14 of the Constitution, because even after they have taken what’s yours, you don’t even know who the policeman was,” Zondo said.
She questioned why police were not raiding some homes in suburban areas that were close to Pan Africa mall. She said it was clearly a case of racial profiling and undermining the rights of the poor.
“They are not asking for receipts because of discrimination. They won’t go to Sandton and say we want to go into your kitchen and we are going to take the things that were taken from Pan Africa mall.”
Zondo said the visuals of the raids could be likened to the state declaring war on its poor people.
“When they take those things, where are they taking them to? Who is going to reclaim bags of mealie meal, who is going to take it? No shop is going to accept those goods; this is a waste of state resources,” she said.
Zondo said the raids on the poor would only strain the relationship between the poor and the police. She said the state could have found a better way of handling the matter.
“What’s the end goal of this? There already is a lack of trust between the poor and the police. Does it even resolve the commercial crime that the unrest caused. We want to be involved in a process of nation building, and they want to be involved in war,” she said.
Zondo said in many instances the poor did not have proper access to lawyers and legal knowledge of what their rights were. “There’s a question of whether the search was lawful, and the manner it was done.”
Law enforcement expert Mpho Matlala said while police could have the mandate from the police commissioner to raid people’s homes, there could be problems with prosecution in cases where the owners of the homes were not at home.
“It’s the same as when there is no looting and there is suspicion that the area may be suspected of having a lot of firearms and violent crimes. The provincial commissioner would issue a similar authorisation to search the entire area,” Matlala said.
He said it was important for police to ensure that the house they raided was locked after the raid in cases where there was no one in the house.
“When they finish seizing the goods, they must replace the padlock after they seize those. The owner of the property should go to the police station and produce receipts, in the case where goods are seized and the person was not there. It’s going to be difficult for the police to charge that person because the person can say they were not there,” he said.
The Star made several attempts to reach the national police spokesperson Mathapelo Peters after Gauteng police spokesperson Kay Makhubele said only national police could comment.
The spokesperson for Police Ministry, Lirandzu Themba, was not available for comment. Spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, Siphiwe Dlamini, told The Star to contact him via an SMS but did not respond at the time of publication.
The chair of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee of defence, Vusumuzi Cyril Xaba, said it was part of police procedure to seize stolen goods. He said he did not know what would happen to the goods.