Human Rights Month 2013 opened with the appalling images of police brutality being unleashed on a taxi owner in Vosloorus on Johannesburg's East Rand. Mido Macia was photographed being dragged behind a police van yesterday, having been manacled to a bench inside the back of van. He was later found dead in police cells, with alleged evidence of blunt trauma to his head.
The incident happened in broad daylight, with large numbers of people watching, seemingly helplessly, as a police officer, known to the community as Mr Boots, named for his practice of kicking 'suspects when they are on the ground', dragged a helpless and pleading Macia behind their vehicle. Worse is the evidence now emerging that Macia allegedly died from subsequent head injuries from beatings received inside the police cells.
The evidence continues that much is wrong with the state of South Africa's police, with police being increasingly identified as perpetrators of egregious crimes against citizens, rather than as their protectors. The long and tortuous road to the present crisis in the police began way back in Sharpeville, on 21 March 1960, an event that became the historical reference point for the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the Handing Over of the TRC's Final Report to President Mbeki on 21 March 2003. TRC recommendations relating to the drastic need to transform the practices of the police have not been implemented in the intervening years. Many police officers demonstrate attitudes of utter disrespect towards the citizens they are charged with protecting, and a climate of lawlessness prevails within the police. Much of this has been evident in the cross-examination of senior police official Brigadier Mkhwanazi at the Marikana Commission, when he described a seemingly entirely dysfunctional system of police units, functioning without coherent leadership and left largely to their own devices, in deciding on the kinds of policing appropriate to different situations. Brigadier Mkhwanazi testified that to the best of his knowledge there had not been a debriefing meeting to identify lessons to be learned from the Marikana debacle and police action taken there.
Dr Johan Burger, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, recently called for the entire national police 'service' to be the subject of a judicial inquiry, when he said: "The police always try to claim that cases of police misconduct are isolated incidents, but it just isn’t so. There is clearly a growing and widespread organisational problem - and ever-growing lawlessness.” Lawlessness among the police appeared to increase after Susan Shabangu's shameless calls to police in 2009 in her capacity as Deputy Minister of Safety and Security: "You must kill the bastards if they threaten you or the community.” There is evidence of a deteriorating culture of impunity within the police and increasing evidence of a police 'service' peopled by many officials who seem to disregard the necessity of adhering to constitutional principles, including that of the right to life.
In Durban, 30 senior policemen currently face charges of having formed death squads and having hired out their services to criminal gangs, killing at least 28 people in a taxi war. In Cape Town, the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into Police Behaviour and relations with community members has had to deal with delays caused by the attempts of the Minister of Safety and Security, Nathi Mthethwa, to prevent its work from continuing. The Khayelitsha Commission is investigating the rash of necklacings and other vigilante killings that have caused at least 34 deaths in Khayelitsha township, seemingly because of failures on the part of the police to take action when cases are reported to them by local residents. The Commission seeks to clarify the responsibility given to provinces by the Constitution to oversee police functioning at provincial level. Khulumani has contributed six cases to the process as part of its commitment to improving the quality of life within the poor communities through efforts to take responsibility for advancing community safety. The Western Cape is presently debating a draft Community Safety Bill, the first of its kind in South Africa.
Khulumani extends its condolences to the family of Macia as we take up the struggle to contribute to seeing that all the recommendations of the TRC are implemented, including those regarding the crticial transformation of the country's police service from human rights violations protagonists into protectors of the human rights of communities and their residents.