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#ZumaMustFall banner assault: An eyewitness account

On Saturday ANC supporters attacked a man for allegedly making offensive remarks about the president.

A member of the crowd confronts one of the young men who became targets after one was heard insulting the president. Picture: Aletta Harrison/EWN
Zuma Must Fall,zuma must fall billboard
Local Politics

CAPE TOWN - I was enjoying a leisurely Saturday with friends when I got the news that a group of people had gained access to the Overbeek apartment block on the Long Street/Kloof Street intersection.

The block found new fame the previous day when the giant advertising billboard which covered the entire face of the building was replaced with the six-storey high message, “Zuma Must Fall”.

Now, it emerged, that about 50 people had somehow gotten past the security desk, and were forcibly removing the banner. 

The Overbeek fascade just after 4:30pm on Saturday after a group of ANC supporters started cutting down the banner. Picture: Aletta Harrison/EWN
The Overbeek facade just after 4:30pm on Saturday after a group of ANC supporters started cutting down the banner. Picture: Aletta Harrison/EWN.

I arrived at 4:37pm, by which time more than half of the banner was already gone. Several people could be seen on the roof and occasionally hanging out the windows of the flats as they took down the banner piece by piece with the aid of ropes and pulleys. Others dressed in colourful ANC-branded regalia were gathered at the foot of the building singing and cheering their associates while waving ANC flags.

Since I did not have my camera with me, I proceeded to start taking photographs and video with my cellphone in order to get the imagery on the @EWNreporter Twitter account.

With a large police contingent on scene, I also approached a few of the officials to ask whether anyone had been arrested. They said no and seemed to be merely observing.

Just before 5pm things suddenly took a turn when I saw people bolting across Kloof Street and running in different directions. It wasn’t immediately clear what was happening and at first I thought that police were chasing someone down.

I pursued several people who darted down an alley across the street. The dead-end alleyway had an entrance to a flat block at the end and what I encountered was two young white men who had been trapped here by a large group of very angry and aggressive members of the ANC contingent.

With about six police officers lodged between the men and the mob the situation seemed tense but contained.

The group was clearly incensed, and members were shouting and waving fingers at the two.

One woman could be clearly heard hurling the words: “Voetsek! You don’t belong here! Go back to where you came from!”

Another white man emerged from the building and tried to shoulder his way through the mob. Two or three women aggressively confronted him, shouting and waving their fingers in his face as he tried to avoid them.

Suddenly the mood shifted. Pushing and shoving ensued as a third white man was set upon by the crowd. I was aware of blows landing and within seconds the crowd members had ripped most of the man’s shirt off his body. 

Police attempt to free the man while he is being assaulted by the crowd of ANC supporters. Picture: Aletta Harrison/EWN
Police attempt to free the man while he is being assaulted by the crowd of ANC supporters. Picture: Aletta Harrison/EWN.

It seemed the situation was about to get entirely out of control and I pressed myself tightly against the wall into a corner, hoping I would not get hurt, while trying to lift my phone high enough to document the chaos.

Police desperately tried to dislodge the man from the crowd members' clutches. With his ripped T-shirt dangling off him, the police managed to fend off the mob, who kept on shouting and pointing at the man they had just physically assaulted.

As suddenly as the situation spiralled out of control, someone managed to convince the crowd to disperse. Still no one was arrested.

As they walked away people could be heard saying “They should arrest him”, referring to the young white man who had been assaulted.

I enquired what he should be arrested for. They said that he had insulted a head of state and he was racist. I asked exactly what he had said that had so angered them. I was told by several people the man had shouted “Zuma se ma se p**s”.

I observed that this may be impolite, but racist or illegal it certainly is not. I was told to “walk away” and a woman started hurling personal insults at me.

Somewhat shaken by what had just happened, I returned to the front of the building where I saw another photographer who asked me if I was OK. In the fray he had been punched in the face by one of the ANC supporters and his glasses had been smashed. He said when he asked the man why he had hit him, he was told: “Because you’re white”.

The crowd returned to the building unimpeded and later declared that they would be back if the remnants of the poster were not removed.

The animosity of the group stuck with me afterwards and I shuddered to think what would have happened to the man if the police had not been there to intervene.

The City of Cape Town since said it would be taking action against one ANC councilor as well as the 70 ANC activists who were involved in breaking and entering, trespassing and malicious damage to property.

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