On Thursday, there was a demonstration at Wits University against police brutality on campus, which, some students say has been targeting female students especially harshly. Tiisetso Tlelima has some words for the police.
I write this letter to you because of the pain you have inflicted on our bodies, the violence you continue to unleash on young people and the indifference of doing all that without batting an eyelid.
I write to you as your daughter, an unarmed black woman who can no longer live under a system that is brutal to us and uses you as the trigger.
— Shaazia Ebrahim (@shaazzeea) November 3, 2016
I am your neighbour in that hellhole called the township where you and I live like sardines. Not so long ago, you brought your cup to borrow sugar because we both never make enough to last the month. Today it’s you, tomorrow it’s me. They pay you as little as R5, 000 a month.
You and I, we can barely survive because we have nothing and we are poor. We are the same. I sleep with the comfort of knowing that we only have each other in this cruel world but it seems you do not see that.
Today, when I see you I tremble, I know my life could end any moment through you. I watch you assault black students day in and out when they have done no wrong. Your presence forces them to put their sweaty hands in the air asking you to not kill them, begging for mercy. They present you with flowers as a token of peace. They walk towards you bare-breasted to prevent you from shooting.
I have seen black students plead with you and try to reason with you but you silence and demobilise them with bullets as a response.
I am deeply hurt, confused and shocked by your lack of humanity and empathy. This feeling has been ongoing.
We all saw how you gunned down workers using live ammunition in Marikana for simply demanding a decent life. Thirty-four black families lost their brothers, sons, lovers, uncles and fathers on that fateful day.
Yes, we saw you point your gun, aim and open fire at defenceless black men as if you were in a shooting range.
Your own brothers are dead because of you.
We then heard horrific stories of how you hunted them down and shot them in the back, the same thing you are doing now to your children within Fees Must Fall.
You hunt them like animals and shoot them from holes as you sit comfortably in your nyala.
Or you chase them down the streets and hurl them from their hiding spots.
You sometimes rape and sexually assault them.
You throw stun grenades at them while they are protesting peacefully.
Recently, you shot a student 13 times in the back, an unarmed black woman. She is fighting for free education, so that black people can get a bit of relief.
We know that from the very beginning your profession was not created to serve and protect us, but instead to defend greedy white capitalists from the threat of the black poor.
Your job has always been to serve and protect the ruling class and the wealthy who have nothing but disdain for the working class and the poor. Your job is to protect the elite and do their dirty work.
Our so-called brothers and sisters in government live in mansions with high walls to protect them from us because they know that they have betrayed us. They are cowards in power who hide behind you. And you carry out your orders to perfection, squashing us like cockroaches.
Sometimes you overdo yourself and blow up a stun grenade in a black child’s face, and you pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
The thieves in power don’t care that you yourself cannot afford to take your child to school, or to buy them books, and that your family remains poor while they continue to steal from us. Your employers and the white capitalists are the real criminals.
They told you to do anything to disperse black students who are simply demanding what they were promised. They told you to use rubber bullets because they don’t kill, but you should know better. We saw what happened to our brother, Andries Tatane, when you shot him at close range with rubber bullets.
Your handlers say the students are disruptive and violent and they deserve the violence meted out against them but they are the ones who are violent.
They are responsible for your poverty and mine. They send both of us to our deaths. They are the ones denying the students access to education. They have pillaged our resources and left us to live in squalor. They lie to us and tell us we are free, but we know we are not.
My brothers and sisters in the police, we are not your enemy. Black people are not your enemy. Black students are not your enemy. People fighting for access to water, to land, to houses are not your enemy. We are at war with a murderous state that has very little regard for black lives, including yours.
It’s in times like these that I am reminded of how much the apartheid state relied on black police to silence black people. Do you want to continue this culture that dehumanises you?
Will you take a stand with us? Perhaps it is time that you stop telling us you were just doing your job, when your bullets help to maintain an unjust system that kills black people.
The students are initiating a shutdown nationally; some of us will do what we can to support them. Please do not shoot us in the streets when we do. I beg you to drop your arms. I urge you to disobey orders that say you must shoot at children. When your colleague is sexually harassing a student, do not stand back and watch. We need to see your bravery right now.
Perhaps it is time that you took your rightful place, fighting alongside your fellow black people and point your guns at the thieves in power.
We are pleading with you, once again, to put down your guns in solidarity with Fees Must Fall, to show your support to the brave young ones fighting a just cause, fighting for the future of your own children.
Tiisetso Tlelima is a member of Manyano, a black feminist movement. She supports the call for free education and writes in her personal capacity.