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South Africa: Police Torture Takes Centre Stage


South African Police torture
South African police assaulting striking miners

The news that the South African police are assaulting miners arrested in connection with demonstrations at Marikana should not surprise us, says a Wits Law Clinic expert. Police torture is on the rise, a fact that many of us have chosen not to see for a long time.

“If you can chop people up and feel that you are immune, then you probably are immune. The police are immune,” says Professor Peter Jordi of the Wits Law School (he also acts as Wits Law Clinic attorney when necessary), who says he is not surprised that detainees arrested after the Marikana massacre have been tortured. Jordi runs an attorney’s practice through the Wits Law Clinic, which specialises in torture cases. He has a fierce reputation for winning cases, even when they are notoriously difficult to prove.

When asked what torture methods the police use Jordi said. “Examples? I’ve had cases of the police trying to chop off somebody’s toe with a chopper, dropping burning plastic on them, knocking out somebody’s eye, cutting them with broken bottles. Going to extremes, you know even torturing a child.”

This weekend South Africa learned that some of 260 workers detained in the wake of the Marikana massacre at Lonmin’s platinum mine in the North West were allegedly tortured. On the evening of Friday 24 August 2012, Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa received a report that detainees apprehended at Marikana, and held at Phokeng Police Station and Mogwase Police station, were assaulted. These reports of torture were first discovered by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) on Wednesday 22 August 2012.

“We are investigating allegations of assault – assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, and common assault,” Moses Dlamini, IPID’s spokesperson, told reporters. “It is more than 150 at the last count, but the investigation is still on. We will only know the total number at the end of the investigation.”

On Sunday, 194 cases of attempted murder and assault had been opened after the same amount of affidavits were taken by IPID investigators from miners allegedly tortured by a North West police task team. “Battered and bruised, jailed survivors of the Marikana mine massacre were systematically tortured by police this week.

Jordi himself is currently dealing with a case where the SAPS tortured a child over the alleged theft of a driver’s licence. “That is a petty case, if you ask me,” says Jordi. “And if you are prepared to torture people for petty offences like thefts, then I have no doubt that you will torture them over more serious offences like murder. They (the police) are definitely torturing people in serious cases and they are also torturing people in trivial cases,” says Jordi, who has dealt with torture cases where police have used electric shocks or tried to smother detainees with condoms or plastic bags. “Where the police have been investigating the death of a police officer, I have had many cases of torture,” says Jordi.

“People definitely die when they are tortured or beaten by the police. The torture takes place under their control in police stations, or sometimes they take you outside in the veld or where they arrest you in your home. It is the police who are mainly responsible for torture,” he adds.

When asked whether investigations into allegations of torture are spiking, IPID’s Dlamini says it is difficult to track because the evolution of the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) into IPID has realised a change in mandate for the police watchdog.

“The ICD was not obliged to investigate or the police were not obliged to report allegations of assault. Now, with the IPID act, they are obliged, so there quite a large number of cases get reported. But it could just be because the law now compels them to report these cases when they become aware of it. We can’t establish whether it is a growing trend or not because it is only the first year that we are compiling these figures. We release statistics once a year so we don’t have those figures yet,” says Dlamini.

“But from what we are getting we can see that a large number of cases are being reported.”

Dlamini said that 46 charges of torture were brought against the SAPS in 2011. Ten years ago, Mary Rayner, a researcher for Amnesty International’s Africa programme, told the media: “There are at least 20 to 30 severe cases of torture a year that are reported, but there are many more incidents that are not reported.”

“I think torture was rife in more serious cases for many years in the 1980s and early 1990s. Then I think from 2000 it started to diminish a bit. There was a little period when torture didn’t stop, but it did diminish. Then the pressure was turned up and it is happening a lot now,” says Jordi, adding: “I am getting serious cases. In the olden days they would torture you, but the symptoms of torture would be hard to establish. The signs that there had been torture were difficult to find; it was a complex investigation. Nowadays it is so glaring that it shows that we are living in a society that is lawless.”

“Torture is spiralling out of control. It is happening everywhere, with those involved simply moving from one police station to another when caught,” Jordi recently told the media. “Our law enforcers’ string of barbaric actions to find their suspect often results in minibus loads of people being tortured before the right suspect is found. Torture is occurring en masse.”

Jordi points his finger firmly at police management, saying that standards are dropping and that management isn’t competent. “The management is subject to few restraints. Steve Tshwete, when he was the minister of police, told a large gathering of police at Orlando stadium that they must treat suspects like a dog does a bone. Also think of the recent scandals – Jacob Zuma appointed two national police commissioners who have left under a cloud. The management of the police is pathetic. That is the problem,” Jordi says.

Earlier, National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said that the police shouldn’t feel repentant about the deaths of the 34 miners at the Marikana massacre, where a further 78 workers were injured. “Safety of the public is not negotiable. Don’t be sorry about what happened,” Phiyega said during an address at the funeral of a policeman allegedly killed by protesting Lonmin workers in the run-up to the massacre.

Like Jordi, the ANC Youth League blames police management too, and accuses Phiyega of staying silent on the matter. Julius Malema has called on her to suspend rogue police officers. “This shows a clear lack of discipline and leadership from the top. National Police Commissioner General Phiyega needs to act quickly to restore order to our police service and suspend those officers involved.

Phiyega was appointed by Jacob Zuma as SA’s police chief in June, and has been through a baptism of fire, but the worst is yet to come. Marikana has split open that can of worms that is the SAPS with its incompetence, corruption, loss of specialised skills and lawlessness. Already Phiyega’s inexperience is beginning to show; her silence on torture is telling.

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