Five musallees (masjid attendendees) were arrested and several others “man handled” after about 15 to 20 Metro Police officers stormed Durban’s May Street Masjid during  Friday (Jumuah) prayers on January 17.

Two metro police traffic officers – who had been ticketing cars in the area – requested back up to arrest one musallee who managed to “escape” into the masjid after they allegedly assaulted him and attempted to arrest him.

Shameer, the man only wished to be identified by his first name, said he approached the officers when he noticed them ticketing cars that were double parked. He tried explaining to one of the officers that it was common for them to double park on Fridays because of the lack of parking especially due to an illegal taxi rank in the area

“… He verbally abused me and said ‘just go away and don’t tell me what to do’ so I said to him that if he’s ticketing all these cars then he has to ticket the taxis also.”

Shaffie Osman who was walking to the masjid noticed the police officer and Shameer arguing. “When the argument broke out the cop grabbed him by the throat and shoved him back. The man lifted his hand to prevent the choke when the female cop came in and started accusing him of assaulting the police officer.”

Shameer said he noticed they were not wearing badges and they refused to give him their badge numbers. “There were a few musallees standing outside the masjid and when they saw this commotion they all came towards us and they said to him that you can’t do this. The female police officer intervened and it became a bit of a scuffle where she started getting violent also, raising her voice and verbally abusing us.”

The group of musallees managed to get the man into the masjid. According to several people who spoke to Cii Radio, the officers could be heard swearing and shouting outside the masjid, wanting to enter the prayer hall with their shoes. Anyone entering the prayer hall is obligated to enter without shoes.

Shameer managed to leave the masjid without being arrested and had his injuries seen to by a doctor immediately after. “They never had any identification as well so I took a photograph of the metro police car, the registration number and I laid a charge against the two of them, the male and female who were in that car because they had no ID. They didn’t want to even produce their ID. Whoever asked them for ID they blatantly refused saying ‘we don’t have to give you anything’.”

But the already “rough” situation only proceeded to get worse once backup had arrived explained Durban attorney, Imraan Shah who witnessed the incident and attempted to “subdue the situation”. Shah told Cii Radio that he explained – to no avail – to the officers that once the prayer was complete they could arrest the man.

“Salaah had commenced and being one of the last persons to enter the masjid I had to read salaah in the wash area. There was another brother who stood along side me, he was also a late comer that was listening to the conversation that I had with the police officers. While we were in our second rakaah we heard the sirens bellowing and it was a clear indication that the back up had arrived and within seconds the brother that was standing beside me was grabbed and hauled out of the masjid and there were at least six policemen that tried to get into the main prayer area and it got to a stage where there were just too many people and they could go no further,” said Shah.

Once the prayer was over Shah says he stepped out and tried to calm the situation but was “shoved violently from side to side”. The officers had formed a man made chain to cordon off the foyer area.

“… As though they had some kind of terrorist that was going to come out of this masjid, it was so tight. They shoved people around, they pushed people around until they reached the circumference of the cordon and exited… As far as I’m aware every single police officer that was present did not have an identity tag. And each of the officers that were requested for their names refused to divulge their names.”

Many musallees had removed their phones to switch them on after the prayer and some began taking pictures and recording the incident. This sparked the arrests, including Shah’s 20 year old son.

“The very first person they arrested was an elderly man, if I’m not mistaken he is a cardiac patient, he was violently shoved around, cuffed and there were some musallees who went to his assistance and they were also handled by these policemen. It was like thuggery [sic] that was taking place. The more people that tried to take video footage the more of them they arrested. In fact they were treated like criminals.”

They were all released shortly after their video footage was deleted and they had signed “some kind of warning”. “We had one brother that was quite severely assaulted and he was in turn charged for assault and a docket was opened for that however, the person responsible in making the decision as to whether that docket should be registered or not refused to do it because there was absolutely no merit in it.”

Durban’s Metro Police Department’s (DMPD) spokesman, Eugene Mosmi says, “… the matter is currently under investigation. A senior officer is in charge of this and should advise in due course. Metro Police strongly discourages ill-discipline within its ranks, where found, strong action shall be taken against those involved.”

The incident comes at a time when racial tensions between the Indian and majority black community are brewing in the region. During the same week news of the anti-Indian group, the Mazibuye African Forum, calling for the ban on Indians from the state tender process and from benefiting through black empowerment, made headlines.

The DMPD has also recently come under the spotlight for being a “shambles”. In November last year SA Metropolitan Workers Union secretary general, Jaycee Ncanana was reported saying the department needed to be “overhauled”.

“What we need to address is respect, respect of human beings, respect of religion, the unnecessary abuse by Durban Metro Police, in certain instances it’s this bully boy thuggery [sic] taking place and what I have seen and it appears as though intimidation is taking place. We’ve got elections coming up it very well might be some kind of a destabilisation process as well,” said Shah.