The enforcement of lockdown regulations has resulted in 38 reported incidents against the police, ranging from murder, assault and rape to discharging of a firearm.
The allegations, lodged with the police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), include eight deaths and one rape.
Of these cases, six were “deaths owing to police action” and two emanated from “deaths in police custody”.
According to Ipid spokesperson Sontaga Seisa, the two deaths that occurred in police custody took place in Limpopo.
The recorded six deaths attributed to direct police action occurred in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, with each province recording two deaths.
Seisa said “only the Vosloorus murder case has been taken to court”, referring to an Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Police Department (EMPD) officer and an Ekurhuleni private security official who are accused of killing 40-year-old Sibusiso Amos.
Four children were allegedly also severely injured.
The minors, between the ages of five and 11, were caught in the crossfire when the two accused opened fire at Amos, who is said to have been in his yard.
In one of the deaths reported in KwaZulu-Natal, residents at the Dakota informal settlement in Isipingo have, through videos shared on social media, claimed that an Ethiopian national, identified as Adane Emmanuel, was attacked by police who patrolled the area on Wednesday.
In the Western Cape, Ipid is investigating the death of Petrus Miggels, allegedly as a result of police action.
Seisa said Ipid had on Monday taken the case docket for further investigation, but indicated that no arrest had been made.
Miggels was allegedly beaten with a hammer and tasered by police on his way to buy beer in the Ravensmead area in Cape Town.
It is alleged that he managed to make his way home after the attack, but succumbed to his injuries after informing family members what had transpired.
Military Ombudsman, retired Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo, revealed that his office had received several cases against members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
Masondo said what was more worrying was the fact that the numbers of cases could be much more than what has already been reported, as a result of citizens not knowing where to report incidents of abuse of power by the more than 24 000 law enforcement offers deployed during the 21-day lockdown.
Masondo was responding to a complaint by DA Shadow Defence Minister Kobus Marais, who reported noncompliance to deployment instructions against some members of the army after numerous videos started making the rounds on social media of SANDF members beating and forcing civilians who allegedly did not abide by the lockdown regulations to do squats and press-ups.
In his response, Masondo said: “We were informed by Ipid that a number of citizens had lodged complaints with them against SANDF officials abusing their powers. Of course, since this is not in their jurisdiction, they could not act.”
He added that the reports were receiving the “serious and necessary attention they deserve”.
“While we [the Defence Ombudsman] continue with our investigations, [Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula] has already instructed SANDF Chief-General Solly Shoke to take action against the accused officers,” said Masondo.
Seisa also confirmed that Ipid investigations were under way, with the three initial murder cases at an advanced stage.
Mathapelo Peters, acting spokesperson for Police Minister Bheki Cele, said: “Cele has confirmed that Ipid is investigating a number of allegations of improper conduct by the police, including a case of murder and attempted murder, in which an EMPD officer and a private security officer were arrested following a shooting incident this past Sunday in Vosloorus.
“Given the status of the investigation, we are not at liberty to comment on the cases. We will act on the findings after the Ipid investigation. So far, our hands are tied.
“That said, the laws of the country are clear and Cele has emphasised to the members, on a number of occasions, the importance of enforcing the Covid-19 coronavirus regulations and all laws within the confines of the laws of the country,” said Peters.
In light of reports of law enforcement agencies using excessive force against ordinary citizens, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has accused members of the SANDF and the SA Police Service (SAPS) of subjecting the public to “degrading” and “inhumane” treatment.
The commission said that through video footage circulated by the general public, it had been alerted to a number of incidents tantamount to the abuse of power by law enforcement officers.
SAHRC chairperson Bongani Majola told City Press that the latest incident was a complaint from a father in Bellville, Cape Town, who was prohibited from going to the pharmacy to get medication for his child
“This is in violation of lockdown regulations, which state that people are allowed to leave their homes to go and buy medicines at pharmacies.”
The commission, which has been keeping tabs on the implementation of the lockdown, says it has seen the limitation of some of the rights that are entrenched in the Bill of Rights.
However, Majola stated that many other rights remain intact and must be respected in full by the government.
“The rights which have been limited include the right to freedom of movement, to freedom of assembly, to freedom of association, as well as freedom to peacefully demonstrate and to picket.
“On the other hand, the implementation of the limitations on these rights must be done without unnecessary hardship,” Majola said.
While he acknowledges government’s swift action, he believes that more should be done to lessen violence and undue force during this period, and that police should not use the outbreak as an excuse to skip procedures when arresting citizens.
“Government should also do more to ensure that the deprivation of the liberty of members of the public should be done carefully so that arrest is not the first response, even to minor infractions of the lockdown rules,” he said.
The Fair and Equitable Society has taken matters a step further, lodging an urgent court application to be heard on Tuesday at the Pretoria High Court, seeking it to find members of the police and defence force “as having violated the constitutional rights of South Africans, the SAPS Act and the Government Gazette in using violence, excessive force, torture and assault in enforcing the regulations”.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in responding papers filed at the court on Friday, defended the conduct of the SAPS and SANDF officials enforcing the lockdown.
“I have no reason to believe that they have acted unlawfully. In the event that there may be incidents of unlawful conduct on their part, such conduct must be reported to the relevant authorities,” Ramaphosa is quoted as saying in the court papers.
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