Videos 'prove' troops chased residents at gunpoint
African Union will probe how the army was allowed to assault people living on the East Rand army base
The army's violent eviction of hundreds of civilians from a Gauteng defence force base, during which homeowners were threatened and assaulted with military weapons, has been raised with an African Union commission.
Now video footage, which the SA National Defence Force successfully excluded from a recent court case on the evictions, has emerged showing how soldiers in armoured vehicles threatened the residents, including the elderly, women and children.
The videos were taken on cellphones by residents.
The army denied in court papers that they were behind the forceful evictions.
The alleged assaults resulted in five people being admitted to hospital in Nigel on the East Rand, where the base is located, with soldiers detaining community leaders during the three-day operation before releasing them without being charged.
Water supplies to the houses were cut to stop residents returning.
Earlier this month, international lawyers and leaders of the community living on the Marievale army base met with a special rapporteur from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Mauritania.
A report on the eviction by civil rights non-governmental organisation International Commission of Jurists [ICJ] is now to be submitted to the commission.It is hoped that the report will be used in an international investigation and see the government answer on why the evictions, carried out as part of the SANDF’s Operation Prosper, were allowed and ensure those responsible are held accountable.
The evicted people allege that coal- and brick-mining companies Brikor and Ilangabi Coal, which have quarries near the base, are behind the evictions, and claim the evictions are linked to a recent mining application by the companies.But, the companies' chief executive, Garnet Parkin, disputes the claims and says they have no interest in expanding their operations towards the base.
“Our application, which was made in 2016, was for an area away from the base. We have only ever tried to help the community, and hold regular meetings with residents.”Three weeks ago the Pretoria High Court ruled that the evictions, which took place in November 2017, were illegal and ordered that those who were evicted be allowed to return to their homes.
The defence force, which fought Lawyers for Human Rights' challenge to have the evictions declared illegal, said the accommodation was needed for soldiers.
When Times Select visited the base last week, many of the houses were in a state of disrepair, with some missing roofs and doors and windows broken.
The former residents now live 200m away in shacks, with no running water or sanitation.
Times Select understands that while Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has said she will abide by the ruling, the state attorney, allegedly at the behest of those on South Africa's military command council, will appeal the ruling on Tuesday.In his affidavit, South African army chief Lieutenant-General Lindile Yam said the military had been conducting a training exercise in November on the base with newcomers to the military police, when it was discovered that 86 of the 124 state houses – which were for military personnel and their families – were being sub-let to civilians.
He said that during the operation it was discovered that brothels, shebeens, drug dens and spaza shops were being run from the accommodation, which had been turned into a “crime haven”.“It is denied that the Respondents forcefully ‘evicted’ the alleged civilians of Marievale ... Members of [the] Defence [force] are self-disciplined and under no circumstances can they take the law into their own hands or be giving instructions or orders to intimidate, threaten, harass, assault, attack or forcefully evict civilians without a due process of the law.
“The reasons the sub-leasees had left the military base are unknown to the Respondents ... All the applicants are not members of the SANDF and there was no wrongful deprivation of their alleged homes.”
He said the military did not know what reasons the soldiers, who were sub-letting their properties, had given to the tenants, which caused them to leave the houses.
Yam said those officers who had illegally been renting out the houses were being disciplined.
“The Department of Defence's policy is to protect the interests of the state property and to maintain an acceptable standard of the military discipline.”SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi said the matter had been before the courts and they were unable to comment further.
Mapisa-Nqakula failed to respond to questions.
The eviction, which is the third attempt to remove residents from the base since 2009, has raised questions over whether President Cyril Ramaphosa, who as commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces must authorise military deployments both abroad and internally, gave permission for the operation, or whether he was informed of it as he should have been.
Residents say they have had rental agreements with the Public Works Department and SANDF for more than 20 years.
Community leader Chris Koitsioe, who raised the evictions with the commission’s special rapporteur, said they had learnt that high-profile anti-apartheid stalwarts, with links to the military, were linked to the mining companies, which they believed were behind the evictions.“What happened is a gross human rights violation. Workers from the mine have been threatened with the loss of their jobs if they support court actions against the evictions.
“We have been hounded and beaten out of our homes and are still barred from our houses.”
Willem Koekemoer, who has years of rental agreement receipts, alleged he was beaten with guns when soldiers dragged him from his home.
“I tried to go to my elderly parents' house to help them, but the soldiers came at me. They held a gun to my back and threatened to shoot.
“They threatened my children with their guns. They were thugs.”
Timothy Fish Hodgson, an ICJ legal adviser, said they helped the Marievale community and other South African activist organisations approach the commission to raise awareness about human rights abuses and to put pressure on the government to assist in ending it.
He said they first met at an NGO forum, ahead of the commission's sitting, to raise issues relating to human rights abuses .
“The forum makes resolutions which are then presented to the commission.”He said the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders specifically requested a report detailing the abuse Marievale residents and other activists had suffered.
“This is significant as the Special Rapporteur can approach the South African government and request responses to the allegations. The rapporteur can enter the country to conduct an independent investigation into the alleged abuses.
“The government and military need to explain how they have not violated the constitution.”
Louise du Plessis of Lawyers for Human rights said that during the court case on the evictions the military had repeatedly “flat-out” denied that they had evicted the residents.
“Their denial was also contained in their affidavits. Throughout the proceedings they insisted that the families had moved out themselves on their own accord, and that they had no idea why they would have moved.
“The videos and photographs provide proof and show without doubt that the military forcibly evicted the residents.”Du Plessis said the eviction took place despite the Johannesburg High Court interdicting the defence force from evicting the residents in November last year.
Pikkie Greeff, SA National Defence Union general secretary, said the the military, like everyone else, had to abide by the constitution.
“The president has to approve all deployments, which this was. What happened has set a dangerous precedent where someone in the military thinks they can use soldiers to by-pass the law.”
Constitutional law expert Geo Quinot said the military’s primary constitutional objective was “to defend and protect the republic, its territorial integrity and its people”.
“While the military can argue this was an internal matter, the use of military equipment raises serious questions as to why such hardware was needed to resolve internal issues, and could potentially border on unconstitutional actions.”