w w w . S o m a l i T a l k . c o m

SA cops roughs up Somalitalk journalist

Wrongfully arrested! SA cops mishandle foreign nationals including journalists....

  • It was a fine day, just like any other ordinary day, the streets of Mayfair Johannesburg was quite and as usual people were carrying out their daily activities. Given the outbreak of xenophobic attacks in the country the presence of hundreds of Somali displaced business people could be felt easily as they stand in groups besides the 8th avenue.

8th Avenue Mayfair is dubbed "little Somalia" by the local South Africans. The street has become the last few years the hub of activity. There are a dozen of Somali restaurants in the area. A newly founded Masjid becomes an added value. Women in cloak and sometimes in full veil are seen moving around.

There are endless stories of police extorting money from the foreign nationals. The men in blue are not liked in this street. I have number of occasions interviewed people who were allegedly "robbed" by police.

At about mid day everything changed dramatically, shots were fired, stones were thrown, people were arrested and the place soon become just like a scene from the post-election violence in Kenya, as the blaring sirens of the police vans and tens of police officers were deployed to the street, blocking all roads leading to the area,. The situation became tense.

The drama begun when a policeman wanted to search a man. Later, I was told the young man had money with him and it was visible from his jeans. The man refused to be searched and begun running away. He gave chase the man and directly shoot towards him. No body knew what it was all about, but certainly everybody’s mind flashed back into the bad memories of the Xenophobic attacks in the townships weeks before or so, and the experience they had with the police is not good. They believe not only police failed to protect them, but took part the attacks against them, so on seeing a police chasing one of their members, and even firing shots, meant a broad daylight attempt of robbery. They never took too long to take the law into their hands by physically attacking the two policemen who were after the man.

They threw stones and used every blunt object to attack the cops in action, two of the officers fled the scene on foot to safety, while the gun toting officer charged the violent crowd, he runs back to the abandoned van, then does the same for several times, as the rainy stones kept pouring towards him and the van, breaking its window panes. For the next two hours it was like chaotic scene.

As a journalist covering xenophobia in South Africa I leant not to leave my little digital camera behind as drama can unfold any minute. On this Thursday afternoon it was exceptional. I kept clicking my camera shooting photos, and observing the situation, but as the violence appeared to be out of hand and could cause more damage, I realized that I had a role to play to intervene the situation. I braved my way into the hotspot and threw my self midway shouting at the top of my voice pleading for calm, some more peace loving people around joined me and eventually the crowd dispersed after 30 minutes of stalemate.

The cops called for a back up from Johannesburg Central police station which immediately sent heavy reinforcement. They arrived 15 minute late, and within a moment they were running into all direction arresting everyone in sight without having clues what was happening! I wondered my self why the police are so swift responding the situation when there is no public violence. For the crime affected people in Mayfair and Fords burg, some people are even reluctant to call the police when they are being robbed, maimed or their house broken. Simply, they will tell you police will not respond. Now, police are all over because there in no danger.

What amazed me was that the police used live ammunition against Somalis, but rubber bullets against the belligerent South Africans who killed, raped and destroyed everything belonged to foreigners in South Africa.

At last they rounded-up more than 30 Somali-born persons, including my self______ the peace maker or the journalist who pictured cops red handed?? No one cares as long as they knew I am a Somali____ I was the sixth person who was thrown into back of the police truck, every minute there was another suspect dragged next to me, most of the with bruises in their face and some bleeding from the noise, I could see from the inside cops kicking, slapping and beating who ever gets into their hand.

We were finally transported to John Voster (JHB Central police station), a place where I met the most humiliating situation. This station is one of the largest police station in South Africa; where the rule of law is to be upheld. Suspects for whatever crime should be treated with dignity, but what I saw with my eyes proved contrary. At least 10 cops surrounded us, they slapped, they kicked, they shouted with insults. Sometimes we were reminded that we are in the wrong country and should go back.

We were charged with three counts of heinous crime: A-malicious damage to state property, B- assault of police officer C- illegal gathering (this charge is no longer applicable to South Africans after demise of apartheid), and we finally made our way into the holding cells in which we felt some kind of relieve.

After first court appearance, we were taken to the notorious virtually C-Max prison known as Sun City. Here, you may think everyone in Johannesburg is awaiting trail. There are tens of thousands of suspected criminals. Sun City prison is supposed to be rehabilitation or locally known correctional services. The effect is opposite.

Prisoners smoke everything under the sun; cocaine, marijuana, horein etc. I was told that prison warders smuggle these stuff inside the cells. If you need extra food, you only need to pay R5 to the warder. Extra blanket can cost you R20. I was also told there are organized gangs operate here.

From May 22 to June 3, 13 days of unlawful detention, with three times court appearance, we were finally released with no charges; the state withdrew the case simply because it was false charge. Our attorney whispered to us that the state did not have a strong case. "It is un winnable" he said and therefore they took out of the court roll.

I was so upset at the initial days of my detention but felt calm when we were released. I reminded my self that at least one judge or public prosecutor is still upholding the country's constitution with respect.

BY: Abdinasir Ahmed Bashir, Freelance online journalist.
Email:, cell: 0767059384. Johannesburg

Faafin: | June 7, 2008


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