Brutal reign by South African police claims another victim

Footage of South African police tying a Mozambican man to the back of a police vehicle and dragging him down the road has been making headlines across the world.

The man is reported to have died later in a police cell from head injuries.

“This footage is shocking,” said Noel Kututwa, Amnesty International’s southern Africa director.

“This appalling incident involving excessive force is the latest in an increasingly disturbing pattern of brutal police conduct in South Africa.”

Amnesty international has been documenting an increasing trend by police to resort to excessive force in response to social protests and ordinary crime for nearly ten years. Torture and other ill-treatment, primarily in context of criminal investigations, have become habitual practices.  

The killing by heavily armed police of 34 striking mine workers at Marikana last August, and the alleged ill-treatment of some injured and arrested miners in the aftermath, is one extremely concerning example of this trend.

So are the multiple targeted killings and assaults allegedly committed by members of the Cato Manor Organized Crime Unit, based in Durban.

The Unit’s alleged victims include a taxi company owner, Bongani Mkhize, killed three months after he obtained a High Court order constraining the police from killing him, and a 15 year-old school boy, Kwazi Ndlovu, who was shot dead when heavily-armed members of the Unit burst into his home.    This latest incident is not the first time South African police have used violence against non-South African nationals. In October 2011, police allegedly used excessive force during mass arrests of “suspected illegal foreign nationals” in Nyanga township, Cape Town. The people affected included recognized refugees who had shown their documents to the police.

There have been, however, some encouraging signs of commitment to ending impunity for police brutality.

The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana killings is beginning to probe more deeply into the evidence of the police actions at Marikana. Twenty-eight members of the Cato Manor unit are currently standing trial for 116 offences, including 28 counts of murder.

In 2012, Parliament held public hearings in 2012 on a new bill to combat torture. Also in 2012, the powers of the police oversight body, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), were strengthened under a new law, making the police liable to criminal charges for failure to cooperate with their investigations. 

The IPID receives annually more than 700 new cases for investigation of suspicious deaths in custody or in other policing contexts. “The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) must be fully supported in conducting its investigation to ensure those responsible for this latest incident are brought to justice,” said Kututwa.

“Amnesty International urges the South African government to make a public commitment to ensure that the police stop the use of excessive force and deliberate targeted killings.”