Chaos and pain in Marlboro Gardens
Johannesburg metro police need better training, writes Alex Eliseev.
In the rubble, people were both furious and desperate. A woman whose husband was injured and taken to hospital said she had nowhere to go and no money to look after him or rebuild the house.
“We’re stranded,” she said. “You see the beds, everything, the kids, we’re staying outside. We don’t know where to go.”
Another woman cut in: “We are crying for our property, our material...they put it on the trucks and they go.”
A man talked directly to President Jacob Zuma, who just hours earlier spoke about making a “giant leap” in transforming the economy and helping eradicate poverty.
“Ask Zuma where we are going to be staying,” the man pleaded. “We don’t have a place to sit. They chased us out. And we have little children.”
Police are now investigating two cases of attempted murder (in connection with the two people wounded) and a few other minor charges. Residents were due to meet various organisations to discuss the eviction and possible solutions. The JMPD refused to back down, saying the officers will return.
The question that must be asked is could all of this been handled differently or avoided in the first place. And will any of those responsible for the bungle be disciplined?
Metro police officers – JMPD and its counterparts across Gauteng – have been involved in so many scandals it’s difficult to keep score.
In 2008, a strike turned violent when hundreds of officers blocked one of Johannesburg’s busiest highways and shot rounds at SAPS members (their fellow law enforcers) who came to disperse them. Some officers hurled rocks at their own cars when they realised their enemies for the day were trapped nearby.
The same year, during the xenophobic mayhem, a badly controlled standoff in Ramaphosa township on the East Rand led to bloodshed, with residents and journalists caught in the crossfire.
Story after story continues to emerge about officers taking bribes or harassing female motorists. There have been accusations of women being raped by metro cops. One report revealed that a quarter of officers in Tshwane were, at one stage, under some form of investigation.
Though there are dedicated and skilled officers, far too many are poorly trained and trigger-happy. No one can argue away their right to defend themselves when being shot at, but the entire eviction should have been planned better.
Time after time, we are being shown that when poor training meets unexpected chaos, things blow up or burn down. The Marlboro Gardens eruption was exactly that, and it could have been avoided.