Rustenburg on knife edge as protesters want Nigerians out

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RUSTENBURG – Rustenburg was on a knife edge on Friday when protesters shut down Rustenburg, demanding that Nigerian nationals should leave.

The police used rubber bullets and smoke grenades to disperse a crowd chanting outside the magistrate’s court, this was after they threatened to burn down the court building.

The court was hearing the bail application of 14 Nigerian men accused of public violence when the threats to torch the court was made. They crowd wanted the court not to grant the men bail but to send them back to Nigeria.

Chief magistrate Ronnie Rampe walked into the courtroom, scribbled a message on a piece of paper and handed it over to magistrate Ziphora Phage, who is presiding over the matter. Phage briefly adjourned the proceedings, and when she returned, announced that the hearing would be adjourned as there was a threat to burnt down the court building.

The case was postponed to February 13.

Meanwhile, a bottle store was looted and roads were blocked with burning tyres. Fatima Bhayat street was closed at the intersection with Klopper Street, and protesters hid in hawkers stalls and pelted the police with stones, who responded by firing rubber bullets to disperse protestors and did not allow any movement under the bridge leading to the taxi rank.

The 14 Nigerian men were arrested on January 21 after they allegedly blocked the Rustenburg police station. They had gone to the police station complaining that they were being attacked and that the police was not helping them.

On January 10, taxi drivers had spearheaded a “raid” on suspected brothels and drug dens, this was after a taxi driver Lebogang Motlhabane was allegedly kidnapped by drug addicts and stabbed in December.

He went missing on December 15 and was found stabbed and tied up in the bush on December 27. He was taken to hospital and died on January 3.

Taxi operators accused Nigerian nationals of selling drugs that led to addicts robbing people and killing them for their money, and they went on a rampage, claiming to clean Rustenburg of drugs and prostitution. Eight guest houses suspected of operating as brothels and drug houses were torched.

Earlier in court, it emerged that the visa of one of the 14 Nigerian men accused of public violence is invalid.

Warrant Officer Phehello Khuduga told the court: “Accused six has a visa which expired on 17 November 2016, the one in his passport which is to expire on 28 November 2018 is invalid.

“There are two things here, are you saying according to home affairs records, the accused visa expired on 17 November 2016, and the visa in his passport now is not known to home affairs,” prosecutor Walter Kutumela asked.

“That is correct,” Khuduga replied.

He was testifying in the opposed bail application of the 14 Nigerian men accused of public violence.

The court had ruled that the name and photographs of the 14 men must not be publicly published.

Khuduga told the court accused six had previous convictions of reckless and negligent driving, which he paid an admission of guilt fine of R500 for in 2011, while he also had a conviction for possession of stolen property, for which he paid a fine of R500 in 2014.

He informed the court it would be risky to give him bail.

“The community is angry at the behaviour of the accused, the outcry is that they should not get bail, if the court grants bail, they would take the law into their own hands. I am not sure what are they going to do, but they promised to do something.”

He said accused seven had no proper documents allowing him to be legally in the country, but had no criminal records under his name.

Accused number eight had all proper documents allowing him to be in the country, and also had no criminal records. He was married with two children and sells cars for a living. His business is registered the police officer testified.

“He may be released on bail, although the community is against the bail. He is conducting a legal business and is married,” he said.

“I do not know why he went to the police station, because his house or business was not attacked.”

When the court was about to proceed to accused number nine, proceedings were adjourned as it emerged that protestors were threatening to torch the court building.

African News Agency

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