Police release guidelines for the use of force during lockdown

Guidelines for the use of force by security forces enforcing the lockdown were released this week, in line with an order by the high court in Pretoria.

On May 15, Judge Hans Fabricius made a series of orders in the case of Collins Khosa, who died after an altercation with the South African National Defence Force and the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department. His family said he was brutally assaulted by the soldiers and police officers and died a few hours later.

One of Fabricius’s orders was that guidelines for the use of force during the lockdown must be developed and publicised within five days. 

On Tuesday, attorneys for the South African Police Service (Saps) said they were expecting to appeal the decision. The guidelines — set out in a circular from national police commissioner Khehla Sitole — are dated May 19. It was unclear on Thursday morning, May 21, whether the police still intended to pursue an appeal because the Saps could not immediately be reached for comment. 

The 12-page guideline sets out in detail the limited circumstances in which enforcement officers may use force to secure an arrest: “A member who uses force for any other purpose (such as to punish or teach a suspect a lesson) may himself or herself be guilty of an offence, such as assault, assault GBH [with intent to do grievous bodily harm], attempted murder etc.”


It also says that the use or attempted of torture is a criminal offence, adding that torture includes inflicting pain on a person to get information or punish them. “No exception, such as a state of disaster, a state of war or a threat of war, state of emergency, internal political or any other public emergency will  serve as a justification for torture — there can simply be no justification for torture, ever.”

Fabricius also ordered that internal investigations by the police and defence ministries had to be finalised and submitted to court by June 4.

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

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