Tatane can't be called a hero - judge

2013-03-28 19:32
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Ficksburg - The judge who acquitted seven policemen accused of the death of protester Andries Tatane said on Thursday that Tatane wasn't the innocent and peace-loving person the State had held him out to be.

Regional Magistrate Hein van Niekerk found in the Ficksburg Regional Court that the State could not prove its case of murder and assault beyond reasonable doubt.

Tatane died on 13 April 2011, after police used rubber bullets and batons to subdue him during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg. The case received huge media attention when footage of Tatane’s assault was broadcast nationally.

Van Niekerk said if the "dust" kicked up around the case was ignored there were different facts to matter. The court found Tatane was not the innocent protester and peace-loving person the State had held him out to be.

"It was not so. It could also not be said he was a hero."

Van Niekerk said it was becoming commonplace for people to behave in a detestable manner during protests, hiding behind their constitutional rights.

"One must have respect for police doing their job, while doing their lawful job."

He said the protest march on the day of Tatane's death had sinister aims, according to evidence presented by the State. One goal was to get feedback from the Setsoto municipality mayor on service delivery problems.

However, there had been a plan to take control of the municipal building.

The Constitution listed two requirements for a protests march. It should be peaceful and protesters should be unarmed. Van Niekerk said the protest march on the day was illegal from the start.

"When it is held to take control of municipal offices, it is not peaceful."

Had the authorities known this from the start they would not have allowed it to take place. Tatane had created problems for police from the start of the march by not accepting their authority.

"When the mayor addressed the crowd, the group of people did not listen to him. It was obvious they did not come to get an answer, but to seize the building."

The police decision to end the meeting when a stone shattered the building’s glass front doors was the correct one. After police dispersed them, some of the group returned. It was at this moment that Tatane started to play a major role.

"He tried to intervene with the command of police, he tried to stop them doing their job."

Even Tatane’s friends tried to remove him from the scene.

"This is how serious his actions became."

Van Niekerk found Tatane removed his shirt in an aggressive way, as if he was preparing for a fight.

Disproportionate violence

The court found that when police moved in to try to arrest him, it was obvious from their body language they were relaxed until Tatane broke free and began a fight with one of the officers.

Van Niekerk said it seemed that even mortally wounded, Tatane continued to fight, hitting a policeman with such force that he nearly fell, despite the riot gear he was wearing.

The court found Tatane suddenly stopped fighting at one stage, probably due to shotgun pellets that had earlier penetrated his chest.

At that stage, everybody seemed shocked and did nothing. Tatane was led away and died on the scene.

Van Niekerk said Tatane had a right not to be assaulted in the way he had been.

"[But] the policemen have the same right," he said.

"It is my opinion that the violence used to stop Tatane was disproportionate to his actions."

Tatane fought with fists, while police were armed with batons and shotguns.

Van Niekerk said the shotgun blast to Tatane’s chest, which caused his death, was illegal.

However, the State could not identify the policeman who fired the fatal shot.

"Even the court cannot identify them after looking at the videos."

The seven policemen in the dock left the courtroom quickly after judgment was delivered. Tatane’s family broke out in tears.

The loud sobbing of his wife Rose lasted for several minutes while supporters tried to console her.

Read more on:    police  |  andries tatane  |  bloemfontein

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