WITS students were left stunned as they watched members of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) use electro-shock weapons and batons against sleeping homeless people in Braamfontein.
A Wits Vuvuzela reporter along with several students were in a nearby residence when they witnessed the attack outside the Braamfontein Methodist Church on Rissik street on March 6.
At approximately 11pm three JMPD vehicles, a large truck, a van and a car, pulled up to the sidewalk to chase away the homeless people sleeping in the pouring rain.
The scene was chaotic as the police officers began shouting and yelling at the homeless to leave.
The sounds of police batons swinging through the air as they struck bodies were heard above the screams and cries of the homeless during the late-night onslaught.
A few of the police where huddled around one of the homeless who appeared to be lying on the ground. One of the police officers bent over the homeless person and the light from an electric charge split the darkness as the crackling of a taser could be heard.
The homeless people ran away, leaving their meagre belongings behind.
JMPD spokesperson responds: “We don’t want them there making the place dirty”
Wits Vuvuzela contacted JMPD spokesperson Superintendent Edna Mamonyane who denied the accusations that police had harassed the homeless.
“We are not harassing anybody!
We clean up the streets and we don’t want them there making the place dirty and urinating everywhere. There are homes around, they must go there,” Mamonyane said.
When told that several Witsies had witnessed the attack on the homeless she denied their accounts, calling the students “children”.
“Really? Children? Who do you believe? Who can trust what children say? We are too busy focusing on other important things like flooding in the streets and traffic. Nobody has time to harass them [the homeless],” Mamonyane said.
Several students who live at a nearby residence and witnessed the March 6 attack told Wits Vuvuzela that it was not an isolated incident.
“The police come often and they chase around these poor homeless people. They don’t bother anybody, they just sit there and mind their own business,” said a second-year Wits student.
One of the homeless people, who only gave his name as “Sam”, said JMPD often came to the Braamfontein church to chase them away.
“Ja, the Metro come here, sometimes at three or four in the morning, and they chase us away. We’ll be sleeping and you just hear ‘Hey, hambani, hambani!’ [leave, leave!],” Sam said.
“If you fall or they catch you, they beat you sometimes with sjamboks.”
A female second-year University of Johannesburg student said the homeless who stayed at the church were also sometimes helpful.
“I saw a girl screaming in the back [of the residence] and heard the homeless people shouting ‘mbambe!’ [catch him!]. When I looked out of the window, I saw the homeless guys running after the thief who had just attempted to rob one of the students that lives around here.”
Even identity documents are confiscated
Sam claimed that when JMPD came to expel the homeless, they sometimes confiscate their documents and belongings.
“They just take everything, even my trolley, which I use to collect things to recycle,” he said.
Sam said the JMPD had also taken identity documents from the homeless, making it difficult for them to find work or prove they are authorised to stay in South Africa.
“They just take everything and go. Even when I try to tell them that my ID document is in there, they don’t care,” Sam said.
Another homeless man, “Mike”, told Wits Vuvuzela that he had no other place to go and would welcome information on housing if it was available.
“No one likes to live like this,” Mike said.
The homeless stay close to the church in Braamfontein because they are given food and clothing by the parishioners as well as students from the Wits Medical School. Independent Police Investigative Directorate spokesperson Moses Dhlamini said he was not aware of the accusations against JMPD.
“These people must come to our offices to lodge a complaint and we will look into it,” he said.
MAP: The attacks took place outside the Braamfontein Methodist Church in Rissik Street.