Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Editorial: Andries Tatane outcome fails SA citizens

This week, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) went to great lengths to explain why the case against the police officers who killed protester Andries Tatane in 2011 had fallen apart and the seven accused were acquitted. The NPA must be commended for providing this explanation, because the layperson is baffled as to why such a case could fail: after all, the offence was seen on national and later international television – several policemen beating an unarmed man to death. It looked like an open-and-shut case.

Essentially, the NPA says the prosecution was let down by unreliable witnesses, chiefly the two brought to court to identify the police officers seen assaulting Tatane. Two witnesses changed their testimony, claiming they could not, in fact, identify the perpetrators; a third was called but his ­testimony, says the NPA, was so contradictory that it was dismissed. All three witnesses, said the court, were evasive and unreliable.

If three dodgy witnesses were all the NPA had in its arsenal as it went into battle, it's understandable that the case didn't stand up. The NPA says it started out with 35 witness statements, 19 from members of the South African Police Service and four from what is now the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. From those 35 witnesses, the prosecutors came up with a mere three who claimed, initially at least, to be able to identify the killers. In court, the NPA found they could not, in fact, do so – or were no longer willing to.

The NPA seems to have been woefully underprepared for this case. There was no forensic evidence, no reference to a commanding officer who might be thought to carry ultimate responsibility, no attempt to identify the killers in any other way. Did the police and the prosecutors not do background checks on their witnesses? One at least was already under investigation on other charges.

The NPA has certainly made a hash of this case – a very important case, one of those in which the police force of a democratic South Africa is accused of doing very much what its apartheid-era predecessor did on a regular basis: using extremely heavy-handed tactics on ordinary protesting citizens.

The perception will persist that the state, its police officers and prosecutors were never really very keen on nailing the perpetrators of the Tatane murder. Civil society organisations (and Tatane was an active member of one such body) will view the outcome as proof that the government is highly intolerant of protest against it – and that its kneejerk response is violence. Moreover, many will feel that the outcome of the Tatane case shows that the state is ­unable or unwilling to police itself, a situation that, first, puts all citizens at risk without offering them any recourse and, second, could end in a police state. That is a state to which South Africa does not wish to return.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and receive a 40% discount on our annual rate..

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Seven years’ radio silence for taxpayer-funded Rhythm FM

Almost R50-million of taxpayers’ money has been invested but the station is yet to broadcast a single show

Q&A Sessions: Zanele Mbuyisa — For the love of people-centred...

She’s worked on one of the biggest class-action cases in South Africa and she’s taken on Uber: Zanele Mbuyisa speaks to Athandiwe Saba about advocating for the underrepresented, getting ‘old’ and transformation in the law fraternity

More top stories

New sex abuse claims against aid workers exposed in DRC

Investigation finds extensive abuse of power by men allegedly working at organisations such as the World Health Organisation

Platinum records for South African mines

The miners are in a comfortable position as the world creeps towards a lower-carbon future

Denel money woes clip air force’s wings

A senior officer says the shortage of spares and and ability to service aircraft and vehicles has a negative effect on the SANDF’s operational ability

State fails at-risk children as R55m orphanage stands empty

Boikagong Centre in Mahikeng has been closed for almost two years because it did not meet safety requirements. The discarded children say they want a safe place to learn, but instead endure rape and other violence
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×