Hermanus accused in the dock as community waits to meet with Cele

A large group of angry residents gathered at the Hermanus Magistrate's Court on Monday as 18 people made their first appearance for crimes related to last week's protest.

Zwelihle Renewal Committee member Theron Mqhu faces charges of robbery with aggravating circumstances, attempted murder and public violence. The others face charges relating public violence.

Mqhu's charges are related to the brutal attack of a law enforcement official who was also robbed of his firearm. Attackers struck the officer on the head with an axe while he was in his police vehicle on Thursday. The officer had to be hospitalised in critical condition at the time.

Read more here: Policeman severely assaulted, robbed in volatile Hermanus

Defence lawyer Luxolo Peko told the court that the charges against Mqhu were heartbreaking as he had been the one to ensure the safe return of the officer's firearm after it was taken by unknown protesters.

He said two of the 18 men accused of public violence sustained serious injuries to their private areas after being shot with rubber bullets.

Peko submitted an application to the court asking for an order allowing them to be transported to the hospital on a daily basis.

Cele to return on Tuesday

The magistrate said such an order could not be made, but that he would endorse medical treatment through the appropriate channels.

The accused will return to court on July 30 for a formal bail application.

Soon after, residents gathered around Peko eager for information as members of the public were not permitted into the court building.

Many residents were dissatisfied with developments in the area after Police Minister Bheki Cele's visit on Friday. Cele is due to return to the area on Tuesday.

Resident Portia Freek alleged that while the protesting had stopped, residents were being "terrorised" by police.

"The problem that I have is that the toyi-toyi is finished. The people who are terrorising us are the police," she said.

'He knows what to do'

The wife of one of the accused, who asked not to be named, said she had been unable to sleep since her husband was arrested.

"[The police] broke down our door at 06:00 to take my husband – and my small daughter was there," she said tearfully.

"She hasn't been able to sleep and I had to take her to sleep at a relative's house."

Zwelihle Renewal Committee leader Sicelo Gxamesi believes that Cele will have a better idea now of how to address the community after his previous visit dissolved into chaos.

"He knows exactly what to do...because last time, he didn't engage with the community," Gxamesi said.

"Instead, he used more force and demanded the guns. As you can see, the results were very sour."

Racial inequality

Approached for comment about claims that police were terrorising the community, police spokesperson Noloyiso Rwexana would say only that the role of the South African Police Service was to "maintain law and order and to protect the communities in the area".

When News24 visited Zwelihle, all appeared peaceful with a very low police presence after days of unrest last week.

Protests flared up in March over land for backyarders after a group started pegging out plots on municipal land. There were also complaints about alleged irregularities in government housing processes and the unequal expenditure of services between black and white residents.

The protests subsided after some residents organised themselves into the Zwelihle Renewal Committee to negotiate with the municipality and the Department of Human Settlements on behalf of the community for land for backyarders and others who have been battling to find affordable places to live.

Unrest subsided as the negotiations revealed that a private plot called Schulphoek would be bought back from developers, and other municipal stands would be made available.

News24 understands from a Zwelihle Renewal Committee member that protests flared up yet again two weeks ago when a fence on the Sandbaai side of Zwelihle was removed, allegedly by some Zwelihle residents who felt they were blocked off from the rest of Hermanus.