TV images of protester Andries Tatane being savagely beaten and shot by cops in Ficksburg horrified law-abiding South Africans.
Tatane, a community leader in the Free State town, was unarmed while protesting against the lack of services in the town, exercising his constitutional right to do so.
The incident underscores a widening pattern of police brutality at service delivery protests, amid a growing number of killings and serious assaults by police, according to the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR).
‘‘Police officers should uphold the rule of law and not be the ones accused of breaking it,’’ Francois Beukman, executive director of the watchdog Independent Complaints Directorate, says.
Six suspects have been charged in connection with Tatane’s death – two with murder and four with serious assault.
Many people recall closed-circuit TV images of police assaulting patrons at the Catz Pyjamas restaurant in Melville, Joburg, earlier this year.
And statements by the ICD over the past year or suggest an alarming problem: cops have been convicted of murder and there have been several charges of assault, rape, torture, defeating the ends of justice and extortion.
These are the people tasked with protecting South Africans against crime so what hope is there for the country?
‘‘It’s reasonable to assume police brutality is fairly widespread,’’ senior CSVR researcher David Bruce says. ‘‘It’s not a case of a few isolated incidents; there seems to be a systemic problem.’’
Dr Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria says police organisations worldwide experience problems with members who commit offences. ‘‘But in our case the exception is becoming the rule . . . and that’s why we must be concerned.’’
Read more experts’ comments in the 28 April issue of YOU.