The end of rubber bullets

2012-01-14 00:00

POLICE brass have ordered officers to stop using rubber bullets and shotguns against demonstrators from now on.

The instructions to police members were contained in a circular last month by Lieutenant-General Elias Mawela of the SA Police Services’ operational response unit and come in the wake of widespread incidents of police violence over the past two years, especially during demonstrations over lack of service deliveries in informal settlements.

The most infamous case was the death of Andries Tatane in April last year during a protest march in Ficksburg over lack of service delivery. Tatane was assaulted several times by six police members and was also shot with rubber bullets.

His chilling death was captured on film and broadcast on television, causing an international outcry.

Bird shot, fired from shotguns, and the use of rubber bullets have been an accepted method of crowd control by the police over the past 10 years. South Africa, labelled by Wikipedia as the world’s “demonstration capital”, has experienced as many as 400 protests annually over the last two years.

The internal policy instruction, which Mawela has sent to all SAPS members, mentions that “in recent months a great number of crowd management incidents have occurred … where large numbers of rubber rounds have been used.

“In a few of these incidents negative publicity resulted in the media raising questions regarding the use of rubber rounds in crowd management situations. Rubber rounds as stipulated in standing order 262 may only be used as a last resort. In spite of this, and that the charges of some rubber rounds have already been reduced, serious injury still results from the use of rubber rounds.

“The use of rubber rounds and shotguns must be stopped with immediate effect,” Mawela wrote in bold letters.

He has now instructed police members to use less lethal methods to control demonstrators. “Negotiations are still the first resort.” Thereafter pyrotechnics, a water cannon or tear gas (fired from a 40 mm launcher) must gradually be used. He said the purpose must be to de-escalate conflict with the minimum level of force to accomplish this goal.

“Members are reminded that in crowd management situations the most senior SAPS member trained in crowd management must take operational command,” stated Mawela.

Tatane’s sister, Seipati, and his widow, Rose, would not comment on the ban on rubber bullets. All queries were referred to the family’s legal adviser, Mr Mothusi Lepheana.

Lepheana told Weekend Witness that the ban will be widely welcomed because it will save other lives and prevent deaths such as that of Tatane. “People must be able to exercise their rights and to express their views by means of demonstrations as Tatane had tried to do,” said Lepheana.

Advocate Francois Beukman of the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), meanwhile, said yesterday that the directorate has not yet been informed about the ban on the use of rubber bullets.

Moses Dlamini, a spokesperson for the directorate, said the internal investigation into the police members implicated in Tatane’s death continues and that the court case will start on April 23.

The latest annual report of the SAPS states that 971 violence-related incidents have been reported to the police during the 2010/11 financial year.

According to the most recent annual report of the ICD (2010/11), the directorate has received 5 869 complaints against police members over a two-year period. These include 797 relating to murder, 102 family violence incidents, 2 493 criminal complaints and 2 477 incidents of misconduct.

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