When President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) on the eve of the lockdown in March, he told them this was “a mercy mission”, “a life-restoration mission”, “a life-saving mission”, “a life-giving mission”.
He told them not to “skiet en donder” but to be supportive of the people.
But before long the SANDF soldiers, alongside their colleagues in the SA Police Service and municipal forces, were dondering the people. What’s worse, their political principals – the security cluster ministers – were doing nothing to discourage this behaviour. Alexandra resident Collins Khosa fell victim to this behaviour when he succumbed to injuries sustained when he was assaulted by soldiers and metro cops. His sin was to drink beer in his yard.
When Judge Hans Fabricius ruled that the security force members who were present during the assault be suspended pending an investigation into the alleged murder of Khosa, he chided Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula for seeking “praise for having expressed regret at Khosa’s death and condemning brutality” while at the same time saying she “equally condemned conduct that disobeys the lockdown regulations”.
This, he said, made “some sort of moral or legal equivalence” between civilians disobeying and soldiers violating domestic and international provisions against excessive force.
This week the SANDF’s own internal investigation cleared the soldiers, saying that the injuries that Khosa died from were not the same as those inflicted by the security force members. It blamed the altercation on the victims themselves – the late Khosa and his brother-in-law.
It is early days as the police have yet to conclude their criminal investigation. But the whiff of cover-up hangs thick in the air.
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