SAHRC asked to look into sex worker’s death

Scores of protesters marched along Wale Street to the South African Human Rights Commission’s office in the city centre.

Activists have called on the South African Human Rights Commission to investigate the death of a sex worker in the Mowbray police cells. Robyn Montsumi died in detention in April.

Members of the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), the Asijiki Coalition and sex workers marched to the SAHRC’s offices last Wednesday October 28. They carried placards and posters bearing Ms Mongsumi’s picture and the hashtag #SAYHERNAME and saying, “We demand justice for Robyn Montsumi,” and

“Sex worker rights are human rights.”

Sweat spokeswoman Megan Lessing said they had submitted a report about Ms Montsumi’s death to the SAHRC in May.

Sweat had received correspondence from Chris Nissen, the SAHRC’s provincial commissioner, saying he would set up a meeting with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and SAPS.

However, no such meeting had taken place, Ms Lessing said.

“The SAHRC is supposed to be the watchdogs. We want accountability, investigations that are without prejudice, we need outcomes and we need feedback.”

Ipid’s spokeswoman, Ndelika Cola, told the Tatler in June that Ms Montsumi had been arrested on April 9 for possession of drugs and had been held in a police cell in Mowbray for three days.

At the time, Ms Cola said it was suspected that Ms Montsumi had committed suicide.

Last month Ipid told the Tatler it had finalised its investigation and sent the docket to SAPS for an inquiry.

Ms Cola told the Tatler last Thursday that Ipid had ruled Ms Motsumi’s death a suicide and had made no departmental or criminal recommendations.

Provincial police spokesman Captain FC van Wyk said the inquest was still ongoing.

Ms Lessing said the authorities should investigate eyewitness statements claiming two law enforcement officers assaulted and illegally searched Ms Montsumi at the time of her arrest.

The City’s executive director of safety and security Richard Bosman said his department had been made aware of the incident last week and would investigate.

“An investigation will be conducted internally and by the South African Police Service,” he said.

Ms Lessing said Ms Montsumi had died more than six months ago and they wanted to give her family closure.

“They too have questions. They know Robyn.

They know she is an activist, and they know the story that they’ve been told can’t simply be true.”

Ms Lessing said they had given the SAHRC until Sunday November 15 to explain what action it planned to take.

“We will continue to have protests until we get the answers that we want.”

Constance Mathe, the co-ordinator of Asijiki Coalition, said Ms Montsumi’s death showed that criminalisation did not work for sex workers.

“Sex workers get stigmatised and they feel more vulnerable.”

Ms Mathe said she had known Ms Montsumi and she did not believe she had committed suicide in a police cell.

“Decriminalisation for sex workers is the only thing that can protect them in this country,” she said.

The Tatler repeatedly approached the SAHRC for comment, without success.

When we called the commission’s office last Thursday, spokesman Khaya Dlulane said a statement would be issued on the matter, but when no statement arrived, we WhatsApped him on Monday. This time we were told a technical glitch was stopping the commission’s emailed response to our questions.

Mr Dlulane said he would try to provide us with a voice note from Mr Nissen, but no voice note arrived by the time this edition went to print.

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