Cape Town - Accused of attacking residents in Ficksburg and surrounding townships in Pretoria, the so-called “Rambo Squad” – 16 constables arrested this year – are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to police brutality.
So says Institute of Race Relations researcher Kerwin Lebone, who adds that three of every five cases reported to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate during the 2012/13 financial year were linked to torture or assault by officers.
“The directorate received just over 6 700 complaints and notifications against members of the SAPS in 2012/13,” Lebone said.
“Some 4 180 of these involved torture and assaults of suspects and other people by members of the force.”
These figures were obtained from the directorate’s latest annual report.
Last month in Benoni, two constables were arrested after victims alleged they had kidnapped and tortured a Nigerian man by placing a plastic bag over his head.
Lebone said this was often the result of pressure to meet organisational targets. Police brutality could also stem from poor training and lack of discipline within the force. The directorate made 1 044 disciplinary recommendations in the past financial year.
But police department spokesman Zweli Mnisi challenged this, saying the number of cases reported to the directorate was proof the new system was working.He said the abuse of power that often came with a position of authority was not unique to South Africa, and many countries had structures such as the directorate to “police the police”.
He was confident the “bad apples” would be rooted out through the directorate.
Johan Burger, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said rising police brutality might be linked to the use of aggressive language. He pointed out that over the past decade, criminal cases against the police had rocketed by more than 360 percent from 531 cases in 2001/2 to 2 493 in 2010/11.
He claimed those years had been characterised by fighting words from the force’s top executives calling for a change of attitude from its officers.
“We just have too look at some of the speeches,” he said. “For example the police minister’s speech in 2010 called for a change of attitude and referred to police work as a ‘war’ against crime.”
Directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini said he could not comment on any potential systemic issues within the police force because it was impossible to narrow down any of the thousands of cases to one specific issue.