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.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments

Press Releases

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations