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Rubber bullets fired at women after they demand to point out officers working with drug dealers

Police shot at residents in Mbombela CBD
Police shot at residents in Mbombela CBD
Image: Elvis Ntombela

Police used rubber bullets to disperse residents and street vendors after they took it upon themselves to root out the drug trade in the Mbombela CBD on Monday afternoon. 

Several women were hospitalised after they were shot at close range by the police outside the Nelspruit police station when they wanted to point out police officers who are allegedly working with drug dealers. 

On Monday the street vendors and community members went around the CBD attacking and beating people they suspect of dealing in and selling drugs and also beating boys who use nyaope, saying they are stealing their vegetables and fruits at night in the CBD. 

The police had to intervene and arrested one person, charging him with robbery and common assault. This led to the group going to the police station, demanding that they see all the police officers and point out those working with drug dealers. 

“We want to point out police who are working with criminals. We can’t wait and have our products being stolen by the boys who sell and use drugs around town," said a woman who didn't want to be named.  

"We know those Nigerians are having mini shops claiming to be selling sweets while they are actually selling drugs, including nyaope, to our kids here. This Nelspruit is a drug den now because of Nigerians and, themselves, the Nigerians don’t take the drugs and nyaope. We are tired and we are not trying to be xenophobic but we are cleaning our city,” she said.

Sowetan attended the meeting where the Nelspruit station commander addressed the community members, saying they must disperse and meet on Tuesday. But the residents decided to stage a sit-in which led to the shooting and landed several women in hospital. 

One woman, who only said her name was Margret, told Sowetan that she was just passing the police station on her way from work and was shot in the back. 

“I’m from work, see my groceries. They shot me in the spinal cord and just a few weeks ago I went to a surgery for this spinal cord but they just shot me there,” she said while lying down. 

Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brig Leonard Hlathi said police had to fire rubber bullets because the community was unruly. 

“As the police we got information that there are community members and street vendors attacking people they suspect of dealing in drugs and selling around the CBD. We acted swiftly and arrested one suspect whom we charged with robbery and common assault. After that the community went to the police station and demanded that the station commander release his officers so that they can point out those working with criminals," Hlathi said. 

"As the police we like the community to work with the police and report those working with criminals, but the way they did it is not how we work. You can’t bully the police to just call officers to be pointed out. What we can say is that we told the public to come to us and use proper channels to have the officers pointed out rather than just calling them there. When the community became unruly police had to use rubber bullets to disperse them,” said Hlathi. 

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