News / Africa

    South African Police Face Accusations of Brutality

    A South African man with his hands tethered to the back of a police vehicle being dragged behind as police hold his legs up and the vehicle apparently drives off, east of Johannesburg, Feb. 26, 2013. The man died of his injuries.
    A South African man with his hands tethered to the back of a police vehicle being dragged behind as police hold his legs up and the vehicle apparently drives off, east of Johannesburg, Feb. 26, 2013. The man died of his injuries.
    Solenn Honorine
    The image of South Africa's police has been tarnished by several high profile cases of alleged brutality.  Nine policemen are currently awaiting trial for dragging a Mozambican taxi driver behind their vehicle.  He later died in his cell.  Last August, police opened fire on a group of striking miners in Marikana, killing 34. Despite legal reforms in the past 20 years since the end of apartheid, mistrust still exists between South Africa’s citizens and the police.  
     
    “This morning they [police] were shooting at us, and we were hitting them with stones," said a protester. "Because there's nothing we can do.  We have to do something if they're shooting at us.”
     
    The 8,000 residents of Thabo Mbeki settlement are staging one of many so-called service delivery protests, asking the government to provide houses and electricity.  But the only institution facing them on this day, at the receiving end of their anger, is the police.
     
    The Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies (ISS) notes that the police are increasingly being called upon to intervene in these situations, where they neither created the problem nor can they solve it.  As a result, the police have become the face of a government failing its citizens and that, says ISS, exacerbates a deep distrust of the police.

    Andy Mashaile is the provincial chairman of the Community Policing Forum, an institution consisting of elected members of the public whose function is to help and supervise the police.  He says that in cases where he had to play middle man between the police and the communities, like in Daveyton, where the Mozambican taxi driver was killed, emotions can run very high.

    “One: we don't raise false hopes," said Mashaile. "Two: we don't incite communities.  Three: we don't get police officers killed.  Four: we don't get members of the community killed by police officers who might be acting out of fear, defending their own lives.  Yes, it is a challenging job, very difficult.”

    By any standard, South Africa is a very difficult environment to police.  Economic disparity persists some 20 years after the end of apartheid and anger has grown.  Crowds can quickly turn into mobs, and criminals often resort to extreme violence.  Last year, 93 officers were killed in the line of duty.
     
    Criminologist Elrena Van der Spuy from Cape Town University says that politicians have responded with increasingly tough language and instructions to the police.  In 2008 for example, she says, the then security minister told policemen “I want no warning shots.  You have one shot and it must be [a] kill shot."

    “The political climate itself then has created a more fertile state of conditions within which police's excessive use of force has taken on almost a systemic feature rather than just located in some wayward individual cops," Van der Spuy said.
     
    The actions of the police are at odds with the post-apartheid legal guarantees for a “police force of the people” rather than one that represses black discontent.  The police force today is subjected to multiple layers of civilian oversight: from the public, to the Parliament, to the human rights commission.

    But Van der Spuy says that is not working in practice.  

    “These institutions of oversight rely on tight command and control," she said. "And if you don't, at police station level, have senior commanders who are able to exert control over members, that means that whatever external mechanism you have will have very limited impact because, on the ground, people are not properly supervised."
     
    Experts say this problem lies, in part, in South Africa's turbulent past.
     
    When the African National Congress took power in 1994 it had to purge a notoriously violent force, and change the color of its officers.  But because no black citizens could rise through the ranks during the apartheid years, the overhaul resulted in a loss of police expertise.
     
    Last year, the Independent Police Investigation Department, or IPID, whose powers and independence were strengthened in 2010, received more than 5,000 complaints ranging from corruption to assault or deaths in detention.  But its spokesman, Moses Dlamini, says this high number is also the result of a greater transparency and accountability.

    “They can't be compared to the police of the past," said Dlamini. "If my father was killed by the police in the past, there was no IPID that I could go to for an investigation to be done, you know?”

    Only 545 cases lead to judicial actions last year.  Dlamini says that this relatively small proportion shows that most of the complaints against police are unsubstantiated.  But he acknowledges that some officers do what he calls "appalling things," and that distrust between the public and the police runs deep.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora