The violent and public death of Ficksburg protester Andries Tatane on Wednesday has drawn a flood of condemnation from across the country, while Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa repeated an earlier warning to protesters not to taunt members of the police.
Mthethwa said on Thursday that he “noted the unfortunate incident where there was a scuffle between a striker and the police” and that it was “unfortunate that a life has been lost” in the “alleged incident”.
“From where we are, it will be improper to draw conclusions on the incident, but (we) remain confident that an impartial investigation will inform us what transpired, who was in the wrong, and so forth,” he said.
The minister then scolded protesters who “provoke” the police. He said that while the government “fully respects” citizens’ right to protest, it would not tolerate the “violent, barbaric destruction of property and intolerant conduct, including provoking and taunting police”.
Tatane, a father of two, husband to Rose Tatane and a community activist, died on Wednesday from his injuries sustained during service delivery protests in Ficksburg.
Said Rose: “I saw him lying there on a stretcher. He looked stiff, like somebody who died a long time ago. My son, Molefe, asked for his father. I told him his father was with the people,” said Rose.
“I saw the police beating him. I saw him standing up. I saw him falling. The last I saw was when the ambulance took him away,” she said, describing watching the footage on SABC news on Wednesday night.
On Thursday, residents in Meqheleng, a township bordering Ficksburg, burnt a municipal building and a public works depot as they vented their rage at the death.
Angry youth armed with petrol bombs and rocks barricaded roads with residents having to escort journalists inside the township.
The ANC was unequivocal in its condemnation. It said the “chilling and sad scene” broadcast on television showed how members of the SAPS “violently killed an unarmed protester after severely beating him”.
“The party expressed its condolences to the victim’s family and urged Mthethwa to institute a “commission of inquiry” into the death “to bring the perpetrators to book”.
“We are a constitutional democracy, with our people enjoying all rights to stage peaceful demonstrations to back their concerns - a far cry from being a police state. It was totally unbelievable, shocking and disgusting to see images … of such extreme police brutality and murderous activity,” the ANC said.
The ANC called on the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to investigate whether the SABC had “overstepped its mandate” by broadcasting “such shocking and disturbing images on its prime time news slot with disregard to young viewers and other sensitive people”.
Icasa spokesman Paseka Maleka said on Thursday it had received no such complaint and that any complaints relating to content against the public broadcaster should be directed to the National Association of Broadcasters, of which the SABC is a member.
DA federal chairman Wilmot James said Tatane’s “tragic death at the hands of the police” showed that the ANC government was willing to use “apartheid-era policing tactics to clamp down on service delivery protests - a deplorable and desperate act that shows just how badly this administration has lost its way”. He also slammed the governing party for “attempting to censor the broadcast of this story”.
Free State Cosatu provincial secretary Sam Mashinini said the TV footage clearly showed that Tatane “did not have any weapon in his possession”. He called for a “thorough investigation” into the incident and said anyone found to have “misused his powers and caused the killing of a person… must face the might of the law”.
“Whatever the (victim) might have done to the police it did not warrant the brutality by the police,” he said.
The SACP said the “intolerance of the police signals a growing crisis in the attitude of our policing service”. It added: “For months now the SACP has observed the irrational response of police to working-class protests. The SACP calls on the government to address this issue with the urgency it deserves.”
African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe decried the “shocking” actions of police officers who “pounced on an unarmed protester like a pack of hyenas”.
Paul Hoffman, of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa, yesterday wrote to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela urging her to expedite his earlier complaint about the “militarisation” of the police service, which he says is unconstitutional.
The ICD confirmed that investigators had been sent to the area.
ICD spokesman Moses Dlamini said statements would be taken from the police and witnesses and a final report would be sent to the national director of public prosecutions for a decision on whether or not to prosecute. - Pretoria News