Community leaders in Laingville and St Helena Bay on the Cape West Coast are adamant that police shot and wounded an 11-year-old boy in the head during violent protests in the area — but the police deny that they were there when it happened.
Leo Williams was shot on Friday night, 31 July, while at home watching TV. Three shots fired into the corrugated structure left huge holes. The boy slumped to the floor with blood pouring from his head.
Pandemonium broke out in Leo’s uncle’s house in Begonia Street, Laingville, where he was at the time of the incident. Leo’s legal guardian, Cathy Thomas, arrived at the house shortly after the incident, and frantic family members called community leader Thyrone Williams who rushed to the scene.
“Doctors performed an emergency operation to try and remove the bullet lodged in his brain. Later, doctors came out and told us the bullet cannot be removed and if they did the boy could die. They also told us that a specialist arrived on Monday 3 August to make an assessment and whether the bullet can be shifted,” Williams said.
Williams claimed that at the time Leo was shot, four police officers were seen walking the streets in Laingville and firing at protesters who took part in a service delivery and housing protest earlier in the day. A video clip circulated on social media showed four officers firing at protesters.
“Nobody besides the police fired shots at the time when Leo was wounded. We believe that the police have shot him and action must be taken against those officers,” Williams said.
Dwayne Evans, spokesperson for the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, confirmed that a patient matching the description of the boy was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the hospital with a head injury.
“The boy is currently in a critical, but stable condition. No further patient information can be disclosed,” he said.
On Friday 31 July, angry Laingville residents marched to the office of the Saldanha Municipality and demanded to be addressed by Mayor Marius Koen. Koen was not available and the protesters were addressed by the municipal manager, Heinrich Mettler.
Residents were not happy and once back in Laingville barricaded the streets with burning tyres. According to residents, the Public Order Policing (POP) unit arrived and gave them minutes to disperse.
Residents tried to gather a delegation to go and speak to the mayor. However, all hell broke loose when one of the delegates, who was just about to board a taxi, was arrested by POP members. Rubber bullets were fired and residents pelted the police with stones.
Protest action continued on Monday 3 August in Laingville when protesters again clashed with police. Protesters also pulled a small fishing boat into a street and set it alight. Two people sustained flesh wounds after police fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. The violence spread to Stompneus Bay where protesters set alight a school in Smarty Town.
Sammy Claassen, leader of the Khoisan Defiance Campaign, indicated that Western Cape Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen will be in Laingville on Tuesday 4 August, to listen to the grievances and complaints of community members.
The protest action that flared up last week should be laid at the doorsteps of the Saldanha Municipality, Claassen said. For more than two years the municipality had made empty housing promises to residents from Laingville, he added.
He accused the mayor of using race tactics to divide communities and said he would approach the Office of the Public Protector to launch an investigation.
“We want the South African Human Rights Commission to lead an inquest into the shooting incident of the 11-year-old boy. If it’s found the police did fire the shots, then the officers must be criminally charged.”
Saldanha municipality spokesperson Drieka Smit said the first protest started on Saturday 18 July. The mayor and municipal manager met protest leaders and matters were clarified, she said.
“The second protest started on Friday 31 July and the community demanded housing and insight to the beneficiation of housing. According to Saldanha Bay Municipality’s Housing Plan, a housing project for Laingville is foreseen consisting of 309 top structures,” she said.
Smit emphasised that Phase 1 of the project had been approved and budgeted for, and that phase 2 will follow should bulk infrastructure be completed. The mayor and the municipal manager met with the protest leaders and feedback will be given to them on Thursday 6 August, she added.
Police spokesperson Andrè Traut said that on Friday members were deployed to the area to police a service delivery-related protest action where community members took to the streets and set tyres alight.
“After our forces were withdrawn from the area, it was reported that an 11-year-old boy residing in Begonia Street sustained a head wound. It is yet to be established how the wound was inflicted,” Traut added.
The circumstances surrounding the incident and how the boy was injured are being investigated by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).
Meanwhile, the MECs of Human Settlements, Community Safety, and Local Government and Environmental Planning, Tertius Simmers, Albert Fritz and Anton Bredell, in a joint statement called for the immediate arrests of those instigating the illegal land grabs sweeping across the Western Cape.
Simmers said it has become clear that those who are complicit and involved in these illegal events only have criminal intentions. Between April and July, the City of Cape Town’s Law Enforcement responded to 260 incidents of illegal land invasions.
Fritz said: “The Department of Community Safety will provide the necessary facilitation and co-ordination between SAPS in the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town’s law enforcement and metro police to address the spate of land invasions taking place in the province.
“The land invasions taking place are highly co-ordinated and sophisticated in their execution, having already occupied large plots of land in areas such as Wallacedene, Bloekombos and Khayelitsha.”