Jackboot tactics still in place

2013-03-03 10:00

On Thursday, South Africa woke up to another case of police brutality.

Taxi driver Mido Macia had been dragged by a moving police van by the very men mandated by law to keep him and the rest of society safe and secure. He later died in police detention and a postmortem was still to determine the cause of his death.

The police service is the best advert of the folly of thinking that transformation is only about skin colour and not about organisational culture. For a considerable number of South Africans, the conduct of the police now is the same as it was during apartheid.

The face of the police brutality victim remains unchanged, though. As video footage of raids by elite task forces on suburban eateries show, the police are ever gung ho to mete out their dark side against anyone they encounter.

The video clips that have led to the trial of police officers accused of murdering Ficksburg activist Andries Tatane; the shooting of 34 mine workers in Marikana; police assaulting and manhandling patrons in a restaurant, locking up some of them for a night on the trumped-up charge of resisting arrest; and now Macia’s attack, are most certainly just the tips of the tip of the iceberg.

Despite being signatories to a raft of laws that outlaw torture, the criminal justice and penal apparatus still relies heavily on the jackboot to extract confessions from suspects.

In some cases, such as with the allegations faced by 20 members of the Durban organised crime unit, they have appropriated to themselves the authority to conduct extrajudicial killings of those they deem to be criminals.

Relying on the certainty that the dead tell no tales and their well-developed ability to synchronise versions to obfuscate and defeat the ends of justice, very few police officers ever account for their crimes.

We only know about those mentioned here because they were captured live on video. At best, the only question that arises is why it happened. As with the South Africa that produces the men and women who make up the police service, their valorisation of the gun and rule by fear rather than by respect is a throwback to a time that many South Africans would rather forget.

There may be more blacks at the helm, and the country’s top cop is not only black but also a woman; but at the coalface, little has changed. This is lamentable.

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