Port Elizabeth – Soldiers armed with assault rifles apparently pointed their weapons at bystanders in front of the Port Elizabeth City Hall on Friday and rammed a South African National Defence Force (SANDF) truck into a municipal vehicle parked outside it.
This after they dumped truckloads of furniture in front of the city hall – an act they have threatened to repeat. A city official said it was believed that the furniture belonged to a family that had been evicted from an army base.
“They refused to listen and continued offloading the furniture. They then took out assault rifles in an act of intimidation. The assault rifles were armed, the clip was in, their safety was off and fingers were on the trigger. One tap of the trigger and a bullet would have come out the barrel,” said chief of staff in the mayor’s office, Kristoff Adelbert, who witnessed what happened.
The city is trying to get an urgent court interdict to prevent the soldiers from returning with more furniture.
It also plans to open a criminal case against the defence force for illegal dumping, intimidation, trespassing and malicious damage to property.
Adelbert said the defence force members arrived in front of the Port Elizabeth City Hall on Friday in five trucks filled with used home furniture.
City seeking interdict
“Firstly they were trespassing and then [they] dumped the furniture on the stoep of city hall.”
According to Adelbert, acting city manager Johan Mettler told the soldiers that what they were doing was illegal, but this had not deterred them.
Adelbert said soldiers in a truck then rammed into a municipal vehicle that was parked at the spot where they had entered the area.
“They then rammed into that vehicle, took out more weapons from the trucks. They were holding up the barrels of their weapons toward innocent bystanders. One senior solider also pushed a small child,” he said.
Adelbert said the city was seeking an urgent court interdict because the soldiers promised to return with more furniture.
“We also are going to get a court order for them to remove the furniture.”
Adelbert said some of the furniture belonged to a family whose home was located at the army base in PE.
He added that the family was believed to have been illegally evicted earlier in the day.
“There were no proper papers permitting the eviction.”
‘Undemocratic, unconstitutional, criminal’
Adelbert could not confirm if all the furniture belonged to this one family or if other families had also been evicted.
He said that while an SANDF commander claimed to have had instruction from Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the minister denied this.
“The chief whip spoke directly to the minister and she said she had known nothing about it. The commander said the instruction had come from Pretoria.”
Adelbert said the incident was an “act of intimidation by a government department that is meant to serve and protect the citizens of this country”.
“It is undemocratic, unconstitutional and criminal. It’s an absolute scandal,” he said.
“We demand that the minister answer for this. Those that are involved must be dismissed.”
In a statement on Friday Democratic Alliance chief whip Werner Senekal said the group of about 30 soldiers was led by a Mr Mcotoyi.
“This unprecedented act by the South African Army is both undemocratic and unconstitutional, and has placed numerous lives and municipal property at risk,” he said.
Speaking to News24, Ministry of Defence spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said he had “heard the reports and [was] yet to confirm it”.
“I will need to get more information on that, but I am aware of that report,” he said.
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