A group of men who use the Glencairn mountain as their sacred space to pray were arrested on its slopes in December, in what they feel was racist profiling.
SANPark authorities, in turn, have claimed the men were making fires on the mountain – something they strongly deny.
SANParks staff arrested the group of 6 five men were arrested on Friday December 28 at 9.46am and called SAPS to assist them. The men were held at Fish Hoek police station while their fingerprints were run.
They were released at 2.39pm on the same day from the police station. The men say all charges were dropped.
Elton Matangira works in Kalk Bay and lives in Masiphumelele. He was part of the group and he called the False Bay Echo.
He said he couldn’t understand why the prayer group was targeted when its members so often saw people walking dogs off a leash in the area.
“Dogs off leash are surely more of a risk to people or wildlife than people who are praying,” he said.
He said the incident had upset and frightened them.
“I know there have been attacks on the mountain and that it is the job of (SANParks) to keep the mountain safe. I agree with that, those attacks made us very unhappy too. But why arrest us, call SAPS, hold us in cells while our fingerprints are checked; to see if we are criminals? What did we do to make this happen? We were just there, praying,” he said.
The men belong to the Apostolic Faith Mission Church, a Pentecostal Christian denomination with 1.2 million adherents. It is the fifth largest religious grouping in South Africa, representing 7.6 percent of the population.
To pray, a group of these church members head into the sanctity of nature.
One of the men involved in the incident, Joe Badza, explained.
“We go to where there is peace and quiet, where there is no noise, no violence, and we go to see the face of God, to see the greatness of God on the earth,” he said.
He said that where they lived in Masiphumelele, it was difficult to find that kind of quiet.
“At home, you have your neighbour’s music on high volume, and when you are trying to pray you end up not knowing what you are doing. Are you praying or listening to the music? It’s no good like that. All we want to do is experience peace and the power of God there on the mountain,” he said. “We do not go there for fun,” he said.
Mr Matangira said he had nothing to hide and were happy to give their names,the group was made up of Joe Badza, Peter Masori, Trust Mlambo, Samuel Khonzo. Alois Makwindi and himself.
He said they had heard shots fired and they had all panicked and thought they were being shot at. One of their group Samuel Khonzo had broken away in a run, escaping arrest.
The men claim they were roughly handled. Mr Matangira said that one of their group was chased, caught and kicked by a SANParks member wearing boots.
The men also allege that some of their possessions had been confiscated and not returned. Mr Badza said Fish Hoek police had not returned his staff, red power bank and USB cable which he still hasn’t received back from SAPS.
Despite three emails to Fish Hoek police station, two of which included the station commander Lieutenant Colonel Jackie Johnson, no comment was forthcoming from the office by the time this edition went to print.
However, provincial SAPS spokesperson Nothemba Pinkie Batwa, media spoksperson for SAPS Western Cape, did reply. She said said: “This office can confirm that five men were caught by a volunteer, making fire on the mountain.They were apprehended to Fish Hoek SAPS for further handling and later released with their belongings and with no injuries.”
SANParks spokesperson Gabrielle “Gabby” Venter claimed the men were found to have made a fire illegally.
“Table Mountain National Park is in the height of fire season, and fire is of critical concern to the organisation considering the potential risks to human life, private homes, park infrastructure and the financial risk that comes from a runaway fire,” she said.
She confirmed that the group was taken to the Fish Hoek police station and later released.
Ms Venter confirmed gunshots had been heard in the park on the day, but she said that according to the staff, who had apprehend the men, no gunshots had been fired during that incident.
She added that the case was still under investigation.
Ms Venter said Table Mountain National Park was open to all visitors to enjoy for recreational activities from sunrise to sunset, but anyone present in the park after sunset was there illegally.
“Fires may only be made in the park in a designated braai facilities. Lighting a fire in a national park outside of designated facility is an offence,” she said.
Anyone encounter in a fire in the park should not attempt to fight the fire alone. Report the fire immediately by calling 107 from a landline or use 021480 7700 if using a cell phone.
Ms Venter said the allegation of racism were taken very seriously.
“Table Mountain National Park does not condone racial profiling of its visitors, and will act against any visitor who breaks the park rules,” she said.
Mr Matangira, speaking on behalf of the group of men, insisted they had not made fires as they were well aware of the dangers.
“This is just them making up stories,” he said.
He said he would be very curious to know what the results were of SANParks’s investigations into the gunshots as he believes they had possibly been warning shots which he insists were fired, possibly as warning shots,fired during the arrest of his prayer group.
“It was admitted that shots were fired but not who was responsible, and now they blame us for making fires? This is just not the truth,” he said.