On Sunday, Neo Malatji, a member of the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command and Fees Must Fall student leader at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) was detained at the Brixton police station for four hours on allegedly false charges. Malatji was only released following threatening phone calls from his lawyer to the station. He told the Daily Vox about his experience.
“I was driving out, going to a friend’s house and then I was stopped by police, at the gate of Vorentoe High School close to our campus. Now they told me that they want me to go to the police station with regards to my number plate and licensing. But when I told them I was able to do my licence without issue, they said no, they can’t see my car on the system. It belongs to a company or it was stolen.
But it was very suspicious. How is it possible that I was stopped outside campus and there were close to six or seven cars around me? Now, it shows that they had planned this because they came from different directions and they produced guns. When they were stopping the car, they told us [Malatji was with four friends] to put our hands on the car where they could see them. While some were searching us, one was pointing at me with a gun. A couple of seconds later, the Brixton police station van came and they instructed me to drive with one police officer to the station.Then they gave me to a police officer and said, you’re going to go with this man to the police station.
So they took me to the police station. They kept me there for four hours. There’s nothing wrong with my car, I’ve been driving my car for the past four years now. This just started now, with the Fees Must Fall thing. They wanted to ask me for information. They also called the K-9 unit to come and fetch my car. If my car had a problem with the licensing thing, why would you call the K-9 unit? They were busy asking me questions with regards to Fees Must Fall but then I kept asking them, how does Fees Must Fall relate to my licencing issues? They just kept on asking me what I know in a casual conversation and they warned me that if I participate I might risk expulsion and all those things. They also called my parents and told them that I am hanging around with criminals and arsonists and expelled students.
They never told me they are suspecting me of petrol bombs but when I heard from my lawyer, they said they were suspecting my car of transporting petrol bombs.
They kept me there for four hours – I think it was half past five until 10 o’clock. They told me that they have a right to keep me in a cell. They can take a decision without any evidence, all those things. But they’re not going to do it because they trust me.
I think they’re targeting all the student leaders because one of the policemen, when the other guys were not there, actually told me they were following me: they know where I stay, they knew everything about me before I even got there. They actually knew before that the car belonged to me. They were just waiting for me to get out of the campus and then they stopped me.
The university is working together with the police. I think the university is stepping up because of this wave of protests. They are trying by all means to balance that and the only way to manage that is to make sure that those who are in the forefront are silenced and intimidated. What I can say to all student leaders is that they must remain true to the cause. Because it’s clear that the police are now using unlawful ways of keeping us divided. And it shows they are desperate by all means. Their plan is to make sure student leaders do not say anything and are silent. But then some of us are not going to keep quiet. We are going to continue to struggle. They can do whatever they want to do, it’s fine.”
We asked the station commander of the Brixton SAPS, Colonel Ivan Perumal, to respond to the allegations raised by Neo Malatji.
Perumal confirmed that that six or seven cars surrounded Malatji’s car in front of Vorentoe High School, and said that the police were just conducting a routine check.
“This was a routine police check that we were conducting. There were problems with the registration numbers. I spoke to his parents last night and we’re waiting for the papers to come through. His mother actually asked us to detain the car here at the police station. But unfortunately when I phoned her, I phoned her from my landline and my landline number didn’t pitch up on that side. So when I phoned her after the incident to give her feedback then she says it’s a pity that she didn’t have my number because she wanted to detain the car here and she was supposed to make arrangements from somewhere in Phalaborwa for someone to sort out the issue.”
When asked about whether or not the officers were armed, Colonel Perumal responded, that the police officers were armed but denied that they forced Malatji at gunpoint. “We all carry guns. We can’t order him at gunpoint – a young child like that – it doesn’t warrant that. It’s just unfortunate that it was getting dark, those numbers couldn’t be seen there, we needed lights, we needed access to the computers [to confirm the car licence details].”
He denied that the police questioned Malatji around Fees Must Fall.
“There’s no reason for us to speak to him about Fees Must Fall. We had people from Crime Intelligence, whether they had spoken to him or not, I don’t know.
It was a routine check. There’s students around there in that vicinity, there are so many people getting robbed, these youngsters are getting robbed and the modus operandi is that people are moving in cars. So there’s continuous roadblocks in that vicinity.
On whether the police were looking for petrol bombs, Perumal said, “Even if you’re looking for petrol bombs, there was nothing wrong in telling this person you’re looking for petrol bombs. There’s nothing wrong in saying this is the allegation and this is what we’re doing. No, we were not looking for petrol bombs. Petrol bombs, you smell them out. Petrol bombs are homemade, they smell of paraffin.”
Interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.