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Metro police bosses blame juniors for Alex demolitions

Alexandra residents pick up the pieces from the rubble after the Red Ants, backed by the Joburg Metro Police Department officers, demolished their illegally built homes. /Kabelo Mokoena
Alexandra residents pick up the pieces from the rubble after the Red Ants, backed by the Joburg Metro Police Department officers, demolished their illegally built homes. /Kabelo Mokoena

Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) bosses are scrambling to conceal their alleged role in the demolition of houses and shacks belonging to illegal land occupiers in Alexandra amid an inquiry by the South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

Sunday World can reveal that junior officers who were deployed to effect the implementation of the court order secured by the City of Joburg at the South Gauteng High Court in Joburg in September 2016, allegedly blamed metro police bosses when they were interrogated by mayor Herman Mashaba for the chaotic scenes that happened at Sjwetla, an informal settlement situated on the banks to the Jukskei River.

The documents that Sunday World has seen show that the process started in September 2016 when the municipality was granted a judgment to raze down the squatter camp.

Mashaba became mayor shortly after the August 2016 local government elections following an coalition agreement between the DA and EFF as the DA did not have the outright majority to run the city.

Internal JMPD documents, including operational plans signed by metro police chief SS Sethagu and acting HOD for public safety David Tembe, show that the plans to forcefully remove people were hatched by the city.

One of the documents dated May 31 2019 and titled "Land Invasion Operation", shows that JMPD had allocated 60 metro police officials, 20 cars and three commanders to lead the demolition operation.

"The purpose of the operation is to remove bricks and structures made in Sjwetla ward 9 by community with intent to illegally occupy the land. These persons have sort (sic) illegal residence or occupied spaces that infringes on certain bylaws of the city and Pie Act 19 of 1998 (Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act)," reads the document.

The JMPD stated that the officers who had been deployed for the operation were going to be assisted by four TLB machineries.

In case of injuries, Milpark private hospital and Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital were earmarked to receive patients.

For those resisting the demolitions, the metro cops had planned to arrest and detain them at Bramley police station.

A directive dated June 5 2019 and signed by Sethagu and Tembe reads:

*No land invasion should be conducted without a signed and approved operational plan by the chief of police;

*All operational plans to comply with the Operational commanders training standard (OCT);

*The usage of the Red Ants will only be authorised by the chief of police;

*By-laws Management Unit (BWU) are the only custodians of the land invasions/evictions operations in the COJ.

Two JMPD officers who were part of the operation said they felt wrongly targeted by their bosses whom they alleged threw them under the bus when asked to provide answers by mayor Mashaba.

The officers said they communicated their complaints to their union Samwu.

"We were only following orders, but now our own bosses are distancing themselves from the operation as if we were leading ourselves," said one of the officers.

The officers said they were shocked to be called criminals by Mashaba when he addressed the media at the Alexandra site because their operation was authorised by their chief of police and they were acting under orders from their commanders.

Samwu spokesperson Jack Mokalapa said Mashaba's statements about the conduct of JMPD officers were irresponsible and factually distorted as the officers were merely following orders.

Mokalapa said the City was behind the demolitions, arguing that the City had sought legal advise and also appointed a private law firm to lodge proceedings on its behalf in court.

"The City has a legal contract with the Red Ants for 18 months, running from February 2019. The services of the Red Ants were procured by the City ... Therefore, JMPD didn't privately engage the services of the Red Ants as insinuated by the mayor," argued Mokalapa.

City spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said: "On Wednesday, June 05 2019, the city manager of the City of Johannesburg issued a statement indicating that the City has requested an independent investigation into the process that led to the demolitions.

"The statement went further to explain that the investigation will reveal who ultimately issued the instruction for people's houses to be destroyed. We hope after this investigation, we will be able to understand all other activities which preceded the issuing of the order.

"The city manager further requested the media to afford him and the City time to complete this investigation. I therefore implore you to give this process a chance so that all questions, including the ones you raised in this query, can be fully answered."

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