A Pretoria High Court has convicted four white South African policemen of assault. The men pled guilty to setting their dogs on three illegal immigrants. Two other officers have denied the charges and will stand trial separately.
The four officers admitted that they had ordered their dogs to attack three Mozambican men who had been picked up for entering the country illegally. They said they were trying to teach one of the less experienced dogs to attack on command.
The incident took place outside Johannesburg in 1998. It was only discovered last year after a videotape of the brutal attack was aired on national television.
The video had been made by one of the officers. It showed the six policemen urging the dogs on, and hurling racial epithets at the three Mozambican victims.
A massive public outcry followed the broadcast, and all six officers were suspended from duty. Three of them have since resigned.
Four of the policemen pled guilty to assault charges, and each was convicted on three counts of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. They are awaiting sentencing.
Two other officers have denied all charges against them. Their trial is scheduled to begin early next month. The three Mozambican victims are expected to testify.
It is not clear whether the other policemen have agreed to testify against their colleagues in exchange for reduced sentences. Lenient sentencing could cause more public outrage over the high profile case. It has been one of several public relations nightmares for the police in recent years.
Analysts say the South African Police Service is still struggling with the legacy of its past during the apartheid era. The department has made progress toward racial integration, but police officials admit racism, xenophobia, and police brutality remain problems within the ranks.
The department is also at the front lines of South Africa's battle with violent crime. The country's rates of murder, rape, and armed robbery remain among the highest in the world. Roughly 200 policemen are killed each year.
Some analysts say the problems within the police service reflect similar problems within South African society as a whole.