Dashiki Dialogues: Beware our new police state

2013-03-03 10:01

The brutal death of Mido Macia, a Mozambican taxi driver, at the hands of police should not surprise us . Our government has been slowly preparing us for this kind of behaviour.

It was like deja vu as I watched a YouTube video of Macia being dragged on his back by a police van with his hands tied behind his head to the van. I wasn’t shocked to read he was later found dead in a police cell. The postmortem reportedly cited head injuries with internal bleeding as the cause of death.

Whatever the circumstances of his encounter with the men in blue, Macia joins a long list of victims of increasingly common police violence. The police force last year gave us the killings at Marikana.

The year before, they killed Andries Tatane during a service-delivery protest in Ficksburg. Thato Mokoka was shot several times with a semiautomatic rifle during a police raid on his grandmother’s house in Soweto. Then there was the incident of police officers beating up patrons at a 24-hour Joburg eatery.

These cases should be seen in context.

We should all remember 1996, when the merger of the homeland police agencies with the SA Police gave us the South African Police Service (SAPS).

A rebranding exercise was undertaken in an attempt to cleanse the service of its dirty past. Brown special task team uniforms were replaced with blue ones, and military ranks were replaced with civilian ones.

The use of force and guns was reduced and oversight structures were established. We all celebrated. Policing was to be a service for the people, upholding the Constitution and respecting human rights.

Fast-forward to 2009, when President Jacob Zuma announced that the department of safety and security, which housed the SAPS, would be called the department of police.

He brought in Bheki Cele as commissioner. Official language then became grimmer, with phrases like “shoot to kill” and “no mercy for criminals” becoming commonplace.

The new language of force coincided with a sharp rise in service delivery protests, or “poverty rebellions”, as some have called them.

Municipal IQ, a data and intelligence-assessment organisation, now records four protests a day across the country.

Those in power were becoming ever more challenged by an increasingly impatient citizenry. The state became more dependent on an overbearing security apparatus, even though more than 27?000 officers failed firearm proficiency tests in 2012.

It’s a simple dialogue to birth a police state for a nation with no vigilance pinned to its dashiki.

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