Police brutality in South Africa: who’s to blame?

Police brutality in South Africa: who’s to blame?

Incidents of police brutality in South Africa occur every day and every hour, some are reported, others are overlooked and unreported and therefore forgotten, and life goes on as if nothing has happened.

But the victims and eyewitnesses do not forgive and forget, hoping and praying that one day the culprits of such inhumane acts will be brought to book.

The death of Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia after being dragged behind a police van in Daveyton, east of Johannesburg, has reopened a can of dirty and rotten worms hidden under the issue, and brought to light the ‘machiavelic’ attitude of police bosses and some experts who are constantly looking for scapegoats to justify police brutality.

Trigger-happy South African cops can be seen around cities’ streets, highways and checkpoints brandishing heavy guns and intimidating drivers, commuters and passers-by, and foreigners.

These cops, reinvigorated by the ‘shoot to kill’ mentality, look nervous and ready to beat up anyone or fire on any moving target who looks suspect, disobeys their orders or ‘does not comply with the law’.

The statistics are startling. Criminal cases opened against members of the police by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) rose by 363% from 531 in 2001/02 to 2 462 in 2009/10.

Some blame this heavy and uncontrolled militarisation for police brutality. Others, as usual, blame apartheid for this ‘military’ behaviour, while some say the country is too violent, and therefore cops have to display an extra-military behaviour to intimidate criminals and deter violence.

However, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said while the prevalence of unacceptable levels of police brutality is not in dispute, arguments about police militarisation as the cause of the problem are less convincing.

“It is necessary to consider what is meant by police militarism and how it relates to the functions and powers of the police,” Johan Burger, ISS senior researcher for governance, crime and justice division, said.

“The formidable powers of the police and the often extremely dangerous and unpredictable situations they face require that they align themselves with the kind of strict discipline, training, and command and control practices that are normally associated with the military.

“Alignment with some of the desired practices of the military, as with good practices in any other institution, does not in any way suggest that the police should duplicate the military, which has a completely different mandate.”

Pretoria-based Burger said as much as militarisation was not the answer to the problems facing the South Africa police in 2010, so too will demilitarisation or another change in the police rank system miss the fundamental issues.

These include, he said, weak command and control and a lack of proper internal oversight structures that ultimately result in poor discipline.

“What is needed is the appointment of capable officers to senior positions as well as internal structures that can hold them accountable,” he said.

*Photo by Mail & Guardian


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