Police brutality during lockdown has instilled fear among marginalised citizens, while others have lost confidence in the police, particularly in cases involving perceived gender bias.
This was the assertion made by University of KwaZulu-Natal academics during a webinar focused on the role of the SAPS during the lockdown, and the subsequent misconceptions about its members’ behaviour during and post-pandemic.
Police brutality came under the spotlight following the death of Collins Khosa in Alexandra. He died after he was assaulted allegedly by soldiers and Joburg metro police for allegedly drinking in public during level 5 lockdown. However, the SANDF board of inquiry’s report cleared the soldiers of killing Khosa, while the police investigation was still ongoing.
The webinar, which included high-ranking police officials, also looked at policing through violence during the lockdown, and citizen rights versus police responsibilities.
Professor Sadhana Manik said the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) had revealed that more than 42000 complaints were made against the police between 2012 and last year, including those of rapes, killings, and torture.
“That is an average of 5250 complaints annually and we know that, at best, these are extremely conservative figures because victims have a tendency not to report a crime perpetrated by the police.
“In fact, the lockdown has created further opportunities for police violence to manifest itself in communities.
“The pandemic created a space for the police to flex their muscles, targeting vulnerable communities,” she said.
Manik said poor, black South Africans and immigrants were the victims of brutality. During level 5 of the lockdown, there were images and videos of police enforcing regulations which were “questionable” as some viewed them as a violation of human rights.
The police and the army faced criticism for the brutal use of force in some of the operations during the lockdown.
At some point, Police Minister Bheki Cele had to apologise to the Muslim community for “blasphemous remarks” allegedly made by police officers arresting Muslim worshippers who had gathered for prayer in Mpumalanga.
In June, Cele told Parliament that 49 cases of police brutality had been reported since lockdown began.
Manik called for accountability to restore faith in the police. “There is evidence by researchers which shows blatant corruption by the police.”
Brutality towards citizens and immigrants like immigrant spaza shop entrepreneurs and extortion among others were “a recipe of continued lack of faith” in the police if change did not occur, Manik added.
In response, Mbali Mncadi, Gender-Based Violence and Victim Empowerment Director within SAPS, admitted there were challenges and said police conduct was receiving attention from the national commissioner.
She encouraged citizens to report any police wrongdoings to police station management, adding that members had been exhorted to adhere to the police code of ethical conduct.
“There are complaints, but I must mention that Ipid has disciplined, suspended and arrested many members for wrongdoings.
“Khosa’s killing brought the issue into the spotlight,” Mncadi said.
Credit: Siboniso Mngadi