Smashing CCTV cameras, firing rubber bullets, “confiscating” money and destroying goods – this is the modus operandi of police and security companies during raids in Johannesburg’s central business district, say business owners who had to repair their shops after the September 8 raid. The majority are migrants from the rest of Africa and Asia.
The chairman of the United Ethiopian Community Association in South Africa, John Habib, said that even when the shop owners are calm, the police use force. He said they are never shown a warrant or search and seizure warrant during the frequent raids.
“Usually, the police want to confiscate a counterfeit, but first they break the surveillance cameras, go straight to the cash registers… and take the money. You have no right to ask what they are doing and why they are here,” said Habib.
“They shoot rubber bullets to control the crowd, then block access and take things like costumes. A woman selling food and drinks in a small shop had her shop vandalized. They just demolished the entire refrigerator and broke all the cool drinks she sells. We don’t know what the purpose is to destroy a poor man’s small takeaway shop,” Habib added.
For several years, law enforcement agencies conducted raids in the city to root out undocumented migrants, traders without permits and counterfeit goods. The tactical teams, supported by the SAPS, the Metropolitan Police and other security services, simultaneously cordon off the blocks. The officers present have search and seizure warrants. The process should include an inventory of seized goods with copies to be left with traders so that they can return their stock if they can prove that the goods are not counterfeit.
But, according to the migrants Daily Maverick talked, no procedure is followed, police use force, riot in their shops and sometimes the only thing they take is money.
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According to a study funded by the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership in 2017, R10 billion is spent each year on about 3,000 shops in this part of the city. Each workshop employs an average of three people. One in three is South African.
Habib said the police “are always just fighting. If you say anything, they will tell you, “We will destroy you.” We will kill you.’
In late August, goods worth R8 million were seized in large-scale raids in Johannesburg’s central business district. Police spokesperson Brigadier Brenda Muridili said the raids were part of the ongoing Operation Okae Molao.
However, the migrants claim that the confiscation “is taken from one block and resold two blocks down other traders”.
Ali Duwa of the Malawian migrant organization Light of Hope for Africa says he has learned from his interactions with the police that it is not about enforcing the law, but about extorting money from vulnerable people.
“The police can come and say, ‘Don’t trade here, you don’t have a permit or a residence permit.’ If you have it with you and take out the papers, sometimes they don’t even look, because that’s not what they’re looking for – they’re hoping for money. So, even if you are on the right side of the law, you will be intimidated and asked for a “cooler”.
An immigrant from Bangladesh said the police regularly extort money from traders for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Like Duwa, he said having documents will not exempt you from prosecution.
“For example, if you show the documents, you will be asked how it is that you have been extended for 12 months instead of six months, then you have to pay a fine for that. If you have a lot of money in the till, they ask where you got it from and you pay a fine for it.
“If you have a life partner visa, the policeman will ask you to call your girlfriend in South Africa and he will … ask what color panties and bra she is wearing, then he will ask you [to prove she is your girlfriend].”
Many of the people Daily Maverick said that he became apathetic towards the behavior of the police.
“That’s right. We are foreigners here, you should just give them whatever they want when they come.’
The Daily Maverick approached the SAPS 48 hours ago for comment – we are still awaiting it. DM/MC