Police violence highest in a decade
South Africa’s police force is the most violent it has been in more than 10 years. According to statistics provided by the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) and compiled by independent researcher David Bruce, between April 2009 and March 2010, the police assaulted 1 667 people—an increase from the 1 578 between 2008 and 2009 and the 1 380 from 2007 to 2008. In 1998 the number was 224 and in 1999 it was 380.
The statistics also show that 24 complaints of rape by police officers are being investigated and 294 people died in police custody from April 2009 to March 2010. Seven of these deaths were linked to torture and 90 to “injuries sustained in custody”.
Last week Amnesty International released its annual report, which looks, among other things, at the torture and brutality faced by being held crime suspects in police custody.
“Corroborated methods include severe beatings, electric shocks and suffocation while the person was shackled or hooded,” said the report.
The report includes the testimonies of people who have suffered torture or abuse at the hands of the police.
One of the victims is police officer Vinod Maharaj, who in May last year, was arrested and allegedly tortured by the Hawks and members of the Organised Crime Unit. “He was allegedly subjected to electric shocks, beatings, the removal of a fingernail and suffocation torture,” the report said.
Maharaj was initially denied medical treatment and appeared in court on charges relating to weapon-possession and murder. Four days later he was taken to hospital for emergency surgery and remains in custody, with no trial date set. In another case three suspected illegal immigrants were arrested near Lesotho in June last year and allegedly assaulted at a police station.
When their lawyer saw that they had facial injuries and blood on their clothes, he tried to lay a complaint, but was verbally abused and threatened with violence by police at the station. In September the director of public prosecutions prosecuted two of the police officers for assault.
According to the report: “Despite continuing efforts by the South African Human Rights Commission and civil society organisations, South Africa did not ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. “A new version of the draft law to make torture a criminal offence was circulated for comment, but had not been presented in Parliament before the end of the year.”
Bruce said the majority of torture cases are not reported, so there are no overall data available. “The question is, why does torture continue,” he asked. “As with the use of force, there just isn’t an unequivocal commitment at leadership level to policing that is carried out within the framework of the law.
“At leadership level there is an attitude that these things are necessary to get things done. If the Saps was serious about doing away with torture, it would be serious about holding people accountable when there are allegations of torture.“It’s all fudged. There is no specific monitoring of cases of torture.”
The report also raised concerns about the increase in shootings by police. In the 2009-2010 financial year the ICD’s annual report showed that 566 people died as a result of police action, down from 612 in 2008-2009.
In October last year national police commissioner Bheki Cele told Parliament that the increase in shootings by police was due to inexperience and the dangers they faced. The police’s Sally de Beer did not respond to the Mail & Guardian‘s inquiries.