No charges, but cops still want to throw the book at Kota
by Farnaaz Parker
Charges of theft against prominent Grahamstown activist Ayanda Kota have been dropped but police say they will still pursue additional charges against him.
Kota was charged with theft in January after he failed to return some books he had borrowed from a former associate with whom he had had a falling out.
Eyewitnesses say that when Kota presented himself at the police station in Grahamstown to respond to the book theft allegations, police assaulted him. He was later charged with resisting arrest and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
Police spokesperson Mali Govender told the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday although the charges of theft had been withdrawn, police would still pursue charges of resisting arrest and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm against him.
But Kota said his understanding was that all the charges had been dropped and questioned the police's motives in pursuing charges against him.
"They should be dealing with a number of serious issues -- crime, theft, hijacking, cash-in-transit heists [yet] there is a determination on their part to pursue these charges against me. That speaks volumes," he said.
Earlier this year, Grahamstown activists familiar with the situation said officials had seized on a personal disagreement between Kota and Rhodes lecturer Claudia Martinez-Mullens to charge Kota with a crime.
Kota has been a thorn in the side of local government and this is not the first time he has had a run-in with the law. On one occasion he led township residents in a protest of the bucket system and emptied nightsoil in the municipality's foyer. He was also arrested after arriving at the scene of a protest over access to drinking water in the Phaphamani squatter camp.
On Wednesday the Unemployed People's Movement (UPM), which Kota chairs, went forward with a planned protest against "intimidation and repression of grassroots activists and movements".
About a hundred people gathered in Grahamstown's Cathedral Square on Wednesday to speak out against police intimidation and brutality and to highlight service delivery problems in the region.
The UPM said that state officials across the country were repressing independent political mobilisation.
The organisation said that although it might require organisation and struggle for poor people to access the media and the courts it is still possible. Accessing government however is impossible.
"People that start off trying to talk to the government end up getting shot at with rubber bullets and arrested," it said. "Very little is said about the on-going day-to-day intimidation and repression of grassroots activists and movements."
Ben Fogel, a Grahamstown activist and member of Students for Social Justice, said this sort of targeting of social activists by public officials is common across the country.
He said the recent detention of protestors who had occupied the Rondebosch Common in Cape Town in January showed a similar desire by public officials to dampen the impact of social activists.
In that incident police, who were accused of using excessive force to disperse the gathering, sprayed protestors with water cannons loaded with blue dye.
"Out of the 42 charges that were laid [that day], 41 were dropped. They arrested people on Friday and the charges were dropped on Monday," he said.
"Clearly political parties realise the ability of social movements to garner social support," he said.