Tuesday, May 23, 2006
ELDERLY MINE WORKERS TOSSED OUT INTO THE COLD
Elderly members of the Union of Ex-Mineworkers' of South Africa have been city in at city hall in Cape Town demanding compensation and pensions due to them from their time working in the country's mines, for some, as many as 20 years ago.
Yesterday the police moved in and threw them out into icy cold. The crowd was forced out of City Hall on Monday afternoon by heavily armed metro police officers, who also used pepper spray on them.
The police described it as a "happy outcome."
The following report is from The Star (South Africa).
'A HAPPY OUTCOME'
By Barry Bateman, Fana Peete
Shoulder to shoulder, frail and weak, they tried to resist the might of 90 police. But they were overpowered by batons and pepper spray.
Last night, in a dramatic stand-off in the Pretoria City Hall, about 900 pensioners were evicted into the freezing cold.
Police described the eviction as a "happy outcome" because there was "no serious confrontation".
But the action has also drawn widespread condemnation.
The pensioners, comprising people from around the country, had spent nearly two weeks camped on the grounds of the Union Buildings, demanding compensation and benefits they said the government owed them.
With the weather becoming bitterly cold towards the end of last week, the council moved the group into a section of the city hall.
Yesterday, however, their time was up. About 50 Ekurhuleni metro police officers, including their "K9" and public order policing units, were sent to help about 40 Tshwane metro police evict the people at about 5pm.
Armed with batons and shotguns, the officers entered the building and flanked the group before pushing them towards the exit.
In the foyer, women wailed and shouted in isiXhosa. Some were so overcome that they collapsed in a heap on the floor.
Some elderly men resisted but were forced to leave.
When the last of the people were forced out the door, some tried to get back in. An Ekurhuleni metro officer sprayed them with pepper.
Zimasa Sinama (65) was sprayed in the face and went into what seemed like a fit on the floor. He was taken to Pretoria Academic Hospital.
After being forced outside into the cold for a few hours until about 9pm, the others were moved to a council shelter.
Tshwane metro police spokesperson Superintendent Alta Fourie said their legal department, at the request of the Tshwane metro, had ordered the eviction.
"The order was served on Friday and they had until midday on Sunday to vacate the building. We gave them more time and extended the deadline until 3pm on Monday."
Fourie said that from the beginning they told the pensioners they could not stay and that their action was illegal.
"Food was provided and they were moved to the city hall, but we explained they could not stay there for ever. Unfortunately it came to a point where they had to leave."
It was not the responsibility of the metro police to arrange alternative accommodation, she added.
Pepper spray was used because some people pushed back when officers tried to force them out, nearly pushing them to the ground.
"We are happy with the outcome of the eviction because there was no serious confrontation."
The pensioners, all former mineworkers, spent a rough night as shelters in the inner city scrambled to accommodate them.
The Tshwane Metro Police last night ferried the people to Number Two Struben Street Shelter after the eviction, only to find it was already full.
Space was made and some of the group who were accommodated in the kitchen and TV room while others were taken the Schubart Park Shelter.
Weary after an emotional day, the group was finally settled after midnight.
Steam rose from the group of elderly men huddled together as they sipped warm coffee outside the Struben Street shelter this morning - they were the handful who could afford something warm to drink.
Later Pretoria residents took care of the pensioners.
"The group has been separated into two smaller groups of about 300 and 500 each and they are staying in open halls in blocks of flats in the Pretoria CBD," said Willie Fuledi, spokesman for the Ex-Mineworkers Union of SA.
Fuledi said the union was now seeking to launch a court action against the police for removing its members from the Union Buildings and the City Hall.
The union has also claimed as many as four of its members died during the protests, but this could not be confirmed.