In the last decade, cases of police brutality in South Africa have more than tripled, rising an incredible 313%. Anyone who follows the news, and likely even those who don’t, will have heard about the massacre at the Marikana platinum mine, where police forces opened fire on miners, killing 34 and injuring a further 78.
Police forces open fire on Lonmin Miners
Image from YouTube
Other incidents of police brutality that have made headlines in the last few years include the killing of Mozambican taxi driver Emidio Macia, who was dragged behind a police van, and the killing of protestor Andries Tatane, who was shot in the chest by riot police. Most recently, a local hip hop star, Khuli Chana, was shot by police officers who mistook him for a wanted kidnapper.
Andries Tatane in his last moments, leading an ANC service delivery protest
Image from YouTube
The statistics recorded by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) over the 2012/2013 financial year are staggering:
- 275 deaths while in police custody
- 415 deaths resulting from police action
- 641 complaints raised against officers for discharging official firearms
- 141 rapes by police officers, 22 of which occurred while the victims were in custody)
- 50 cases of torture
- 4,047 cases of assault
- 116 cases of corruption
- 127 cases of non-compliance with section 29 of IPID Act, which compels police to report alleged crimes to IPID within 48 hours.
The root of the evil
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) reports that one of the factors in the sharp increase in police brutality is mass recruitment, which has put under-trained police on the streets, weakening the South African Police Service (SAPS) overall and giving it a reputation for corruption.
The Gauteng Police Commissioner has noted that improving the quality of new recruits is crucial. Although many cases of police brutality are reported and dealt with, either internally or in court, the problem doesn’t simply reside with a few “bad apples”. This shifts responsibility away from the SAPS leadership, who should be playing a more active role in enforcing the code of conduct that all police officers sign. The root of the problem lies in the command and control of SAPS leadership, or rather, the lack thereof.
Another factor that contributes to police brutality is the low conviction rate for offenders. It’s not often that police officers are convicted in alleged police brutality cases. The number of disciplinary hearings that ended in police member dismissals decreased from 12.2 in 2009/10 to 9.6 in 2011/12.
What to do if you’re a victim
If you, a family member, or anyone you know is a victim of police assault or brutality, you can file a personal injury claim against SAPS, and against the Metropolitan Police Department in your city.
It’s important to gather as much useful evidence as possible. This includes the names of offending officers, the names and contact details of any witnesses, reports from medical professionals and photographs of any visible injuries. This will support any claim you make for past or future medical expenses, the loss of past and/or future earnings, damages for pain and suffering and loss of support.
Keep in mind that intended legal action against an organ of state such as SAPS has to be reported within six months of the incident. Some legal offices charge hefty fees for their services, but many others act on a flexible “no win, no pay” basis, giving you peace of mind that there’s no financial risk in putting forward a claim.