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Acting Police Minister Siyabonga Cwele welcomed on Friday the suspension of police officers allegedly involved in the death of a taxi driver.
The taxi driver had been dragged behind a marked police van in Daveyton, Johannesburg, after being confronted by police over a parking violation.
Mido Macia was found dead in police cells on Tuesday night.
On Friday morning national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega announced the decision to remove the station commander of the Daveyton police station, Colonel Thomas Maupa, and to suspend eight officers – two warrant officers and six constables – alleged to have been involved in the dragging incident.
“All police officers have a duty to fight crime and those who are not worthy of wearing our badge and uniform, must know that they have no place within SAPS (SA Police Service),” Cwele said in a statement.
“We view this incident in (a) serious light and we would want to see stern action taken against those involved. We want stern action so that it may send a message to other officers that any untoward conduct will not be tolerated.”
Cwele is acting minister while minister Nathi Mthethwa is on official leave until March 12.
None of the officers directly involved in the incident has been named.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) is investigating a case of murder and said that despite Macia being dragged in a seated position, the initial post-mortem showed that he died of head injuries.
Ipid said it would perform another post-mortem because of the many allegations against the police.
The police would also conduct their own investigation, Phiyega said on Friday.
“We shall fast-track (the investigation) to ensure we get to a quick solution, a quick outcome.”
The police reacted with “extreme shock and outrage” when they watched the video, according to the statement released by Phiyega’s office.
“The behaviour displayed in that video, when it is committed by police who are expected to serve and protect, is to be abhorred by all right-thinking people,” she said.
Acting Gauteng provincial commissioner Major-General Phumzo Gela, was ordered to remove the station commander and the other officers.
All their guns were confiscated and internal disciplinary procedures have begun.
The station commander was removed so that “investigations can proceed uninhibited”, said Phiyega.
She said the police would try to change people’s perception of the SAPS.
“It is important for all of us, including the media, to communicate the weak sides of our work, as well as the strong sides.
“The focus (at the moment) is more around the weak sides.”
The police would focus on improving training in an attempt to professionalise and modernise the SAPS, including training in conduct, said Phiyega.
“The behaviour of the suspended members is therefore condemned in the strongest terms.”
Police spokesman Captain Alfred Makana said no arrests had been made in connection with Macia’s death.
The dragging was captured on video by an onlooker.
It has since gone viral, and another recording of the build-up to the incident was released on Friday morning.
Phiyega had instructed Gela to start an internal investigation and provide feedback urgently.
This morning, frame grabs of another cellphone video that showed the moments leading up to Macia being dragged were published by the Daily Sun.
The taxi driver and one uniformed officer can be seen talking in the road while a crowd watches from both pavements.
Macia gestures with his hands as he talks, but there is no audio of the conversation between him and the officer.
An eyewitness filmed the assault. Macia died in the local police station's cells later that day.
The SA Policing Union (Sapu) commended Phiyega for her actions against the officers.
“Those members don't just deserve suspension, they will have to face the music both departmentally and criminally,” Sapu general secretary Oscar Skommere said.
“This kind of brutality has no room whatsoever in the SAPS. We commend General Phiyega for this kind of leadership. The good image of the police is tarnished by ruthless elements like these.”
The Star, Sapa, AFP