Trouble at Omuthiya

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Shebeen Owners Accuse Police of Brutality By Chrispin Inambao WINDHOEK Charges of police brutality and strong-arm tactics against shebeen owners seeking clarity and information on how the new Liquor Act is going to be enforced have surfaced at Omuthiya, where the situation became riotous on Saturday. After the dust settled from the night’s unrest one person, an employee of Pep Stores at Omuthiya was found dead in a millet field as a result of suffocating gas. Instead of addressing the anticipating owners of informal pubs on the stipulations of the contentious Liquor Act now being enforced, the police allegedly tear-gassed, whipped, shot with rubber bullets and arrested dozens gathered at Omuthiya in the Oshikoto Region. Many people involved in this informal trade told New Era that they spent the night in the bush to avoid capture by the police who were hot in pursuit. Initially only members of the police from the sub-station at Omuthiya were involved but later they radioed for reinforcements from Oshakati and Ondangwa, and this is when the situation seemingly got out of hand with alleged indiscriminate acts of brutality against civilians. The civilians further accused the police of being foul-mouthed as they used abusive language. Several people landed in hospital with various degrees of rubber-bullet wounds and some of the victims of the alleged brutality were only resuscitated in hospital after they fainted from the fumes of the tear-gas that engulfed the besieged area of Omuthiya. At least one person suffered a fractured arm and members of the police involved in the operation were described as having been “very aggressive” by Armas Amukoto, who employs nine people at “Roots” and at “Shigwulu” at Omuthiya. “I saw one person who was bleeding on the right arm because of an injury inflicted by a rubber bullet. We dressed him because he was bleeding heavily,” recounted Amukoto. The victim, who is in the employ of Shambes Club was by yesterday still hospitalised. A senior Government official stationed in Windhoek but was at his village for the weekend, and requested anonymity, said another victim suffered a fractured arm. “We didn’t do anything to them but some of them used abusive language provoking people at Omuthiya. Today we are going to give a petition to the house of Governor of the Oshikoto Region who also serves as the councillor for Omuthiya, Penda ya Ndakolo,” said Amukoto. He said the victims who had expected an explanation from a police commander on the stipulations of the new law were instead beaten and tear-gassed. Shebeen owner Laban Shimeanda said he personally knows of six people who were arrested while he identified Teophilus Kanana as being among the wounded. Moses Amukoto, the owner of Cinq Cinq who confirmed the incident said, “They didn’t want to talk to us. They just tear-gassed and beat us with sjamboks (plastic whips).” Loide Richard, the owner of Okahama Shopping Centre famous for its barbequed pork said the new Liquor Law could jeopardise her business and even land on the streets several people employed by her who would join the large army of jobless people. The business people at Omuthiya are saying though their operations are not yet in compliance with the stringent law, they are not entirely illegal because they have trading certificates issued by the Government-recognised Ondonga Traditional Authority that they renew each year for a sum of N$20. Although Ya Ndakolo was in Windhoek, he also confirmed Saturday’s disturbances in his constituency when he was contacted yesterday. “Yes I heard so, but until now I don’t have any clear picture,” he stated. But the police commander for the northern regions, Commissioner Joseph Anghuwo said the police only reacted after some of their members were taken “hostage” while their vehicles were apparently stoned by an unruly mob of people, some of whom were drunk. When he was asked about the disturbances the police chief said that the “police were only implementing a law of the Republic of Namibia, the Liquor Act. People resisted, they didn’t want to comply with the law. They took some police officers hostage.” When told about the version given by the shebeen owners, the police commissioner responded, “What I know is what has happened,” adding the police were provoked to “react” the way they did. Those arrested will be charged with obstructing the police from executing their duties and causing malicious damage to property by stoning the vehicles. “I don’t know of any person who died in a mahangu field from the tear-gas,” he said when asked about the death, though he admitted that he received information about the death at Omuthiya, of “a person working for Pep Stores who had diarrhoea and was vomiting”. But Moses Amukoto disputed the commissioner’s version, maintaining the crowd was orderly and that the victim died from the tear-gassing involving the police. Most shebeen owners object to the new law, arguing that it will land tens of thousands on the streets swelling the number of unemployed and this could in turn worsen crime.