SA police open case against MDC over illegal protest

SOUTH African police fired rubber bullets to break up a protest by 1 500 people outside Union Buildings in Pretoria on Monday and opened a case against Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for organising an illegal gathering.

Police spokeswoman Captain Julia Claassen said a group of protesters forced their way into the grounds of the Union Buildings which house South African government offices.

Captain Claassen said when police stopped the protesters, they threw stones at the police.

"Police then fired rubber bullets at the protesters. The crowd dispersed, she said.

Seven people were taken to hospital for treatment. No one was arrested.

The protesters were apparently supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change.
"A case of public violence and illegal gathering has been opened against the Movement for Democratic Change," said Claassen.

However, the Institute for Democracy in SA (Idasa) in a statement said that the march had been peaceful.

The Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum which also participated in the protest said reaction from the police was "completely over the top".

"People were singing and dancing when police started firing rubber bullets. This type of intolerance is part of a culture which must be changed," said spokesperson Richard Smith.

Also on Monday, eight representatives of the Save Zimbabwe Now campaign were forcefully removed from the grounds of the presidential guest house in Pretoria where the Southern African Development Community's extraordinary summit on Zimbabwe was being held.

The eight were part of the group that started protesting at the Union Buildings.
Speaking from the back of a police minibus, a woman said they were demanding that their human rights be recognised.

"We are dying, this cholera is killing us. They are raping us day in and night. They are denying us food. They are refusing to just [let us] give a memorandum," she said.

According to Idasa, among those removed from the guest house were Civicus president Kumi Naidoo who was entering the sixth day of a hunger strike, and Nomboniso Gasa, chair of the SA Commission for Gender Equality.

"The detention and mistreatment of civil society activists trying to peacefully and non-violently draw attention to the gross violations of human and democratic rights in Zimbabwe is a sad reflection of the lengths South Africa’s government will go to suppress legitimate civil society demands and protect the Mugabe regime.

"Their actions are a new low," said Ingrid Srinath, secretary-general of Civicus.

Speaking following his release Naidoo said: "It is tragic that the SADC leaders were unwilling to receive an appeal from a broad cross-section of Southern African civil society – which essentially appealed for the end of human rights violations, humanitarian intervention, and justice for the people of Zimbabwe."

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