Socialist Worker

South African police unleash wave of violence against poor

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2768

Ntombenhle Mzilelwa by her shack near Durban. She was a friend of Zamekile Shangase, who was killed by the cops

Ntombenhle Mzilelwa by her shack near Durban. She was a friend of Zamekile Shangase, who was killed by the cops

In a brutal response to recent riots and looting, South African police are terrorising poor people and demanding receipts for their food and other goods.

“Operation Show Your Receipt,” as it is called is another way of squeezing people in the greatest need.

Zamekile Shangase, a woman from Asiyindawo near Durban, was recently shot and killed outside her home by police who were raiding the settlement as part of the operation. Shangase was the mother of two children, aged six and 11.

She had come to the area from a rural town and had been doing piece-work jobs in local clothing factories before the Covid-19 lockdown.

Her husband, Mongezi Ngwadla, said he was sleeping when a neighbour knocked at his door to tell him about the shooting. “I was working the night shift so when the chaos started I was sleeping,” he said.

“When I was told I rushed to the scene and I saw the mother of my children lying on the floor, full of blood.”

One eyewitness said Shangase was standing with neighbours when the shooting began and was struck by two bullets. She tried to flee before falling behind a shack and died.

Residents say she had two gunshot wounds, one in the chest and another in the shoulder.


Thalepo Mohapi from the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo spoke to Socialist Worker. “This is the second time that the police had come to raid the settlements in this area and take people’s food,” he said.

“They always target the poorest of the poor.

“They were going door to door, breaking locks, threatening and abusing people, and taking food. People got angry and started shouting. Some people started throwing stones at the police and banging on the police van. The police then started shooting.

“They would not act like this in a middle class community. This is the same way of targeting the poor as in apartheid South Africa.

‘It can’t be business as usual in South Africa after this’
‘It can’t be business as usual in South Africa after this’
  Read More

“We do not see those who took food as looters. They were simply trying to eat. Let the police arrest the people who support former president Jacob Zuma and who set fire to workplaces.

“Let them raid the capitalists who are the real looters of society.  

“If you are poor and black your humanity is not recognised. You are shown to the world as a person who can’t think, and as a criminal. You do not count to society.”

After Shangase was shot, the police carried on with their operation of seizing people’s food at gunpoint while her body was still lying on the ground.

Thalepo added, “When the leadership of Abahlali arrived in Asiyindawo shortly after the shooting, one of the residents asked a very important question to the heavily armed police. ‘Why must we be killed for food, why must we die for food?’ they asked.

“The police did not answer. This is now a question for the whole of society.

“The state does not protect the poor. The ANC government does not act for the poor.”

On Monday of next week, 16 August, it will be the anniversary of the notorious 2012 Marikana massacre. This saw police shoot down 112 striking miners—and kill 34.

The fact that the violence continues against workers and the poor is a terrible condemnation of the ANC government.  

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.