An end to police and army brutality is still urgent – Khosa family

The easing of the Lockdown has not made it any less urgent to curb police and army brutality, said the family of Collins Khosa in court papers on Saturday.

Khosa died on Easter Friday in Alexandra, allegedly at the hands of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the Johannesburg Metro Police Department. In an altercation, he is said to have been hit with the butt of a machine gun, throttled while his arm was held behind his back and slammed into a steel gate. The death notice attached to the court papers described the cause of death as a blunt force to the head. 

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has said the matter was under investigation. But Khosa’s family said in their court papers that there had been no response as yet to their request for confirmation that the security force members alleged to be involved in Khosa’s death had been removed from the public and suspended pending investigation.  

The family, seeking court intervention to put an end to police and army brutality for the duration of the lockdown and state of disaster, first approached the Constitutional Court. But, after the highest court refused them direct access, they have now gone to the high court, saying their case remains urgent. 

“There is no clear indication of when the lockdown may end. Instead, the president announced a phased easing of the lockdown, but restrictions on gatherings and movement of people will remain in place indefinitely,” said Nomsa Montsho, Khosa’s life partner, in an affidavit to the high court in Pretoria.

The president also notified Parliament that, in addition to more than 2 800 SANDF members already employed to enforce the lockdown, 73 000 troops more will be employed from Friday, said Montsho. 

In announcing the easing of the lockdown, Ramaphosa said that up to now, troops had been deployed to support the police. “They will continue to do so, but they will also be providing assistance in other essential areas, such as the provision of water supply, infrastructure maintenance and health services.”

Montsho said: “This is a 26-fold increase. The real anticipated threat to civilian life and limb is thus increased 26-fold from Friday … Those 73 180 armed soldiers simply cannot be unleashed on a civilian population without, at the very least, a code of conduct and operational plan telling them how to behave — especially, when they may use force and how much.”

The family has asked the court to order that a code of conduct be developed for the SANDF for the duration of the state of disaster. They have also asked for a number of orders that would establish a process for the speedy reporting and investigation of police and army brutality. 

Montsho said there was a lack of clarity on what stage 4 of the lockdown restrictions mean — for example what if an essential services worker works past the curfew time. “If the government is planning a curfew, it cannot do so without clearly communicating this to the public, setting out the terms of the behaviour of the government police or soldiers and explaining what the exceptions would be in case a person is at work during the period of the curfew,” she said. 

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri) has also asked to join the case as a friend of the court, saying it wants to argue that there needs to be widely publicised and clearly  set out standards in place for the use of force by the security services.

“What is striking about the abuses referred to in the applicants’ founding papers is the apparent absence of any detailed public standards known and internalised by security service officers, governing the exercise of reasonable force,” Seri’s Nomzamo Zondo said in an affidavit.  

Court papers for the police and defence ministers were yet to be filed. Khosa’s family wants the case heard on Tuesday but lawyers for the police and defence minister have asked for a day later in the week.

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Franny Rabkin
Franny Rabkin
Franny is the legal reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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