Dozens of unrest deaths linked to police under investigation
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Johannesburg - Police officers are under investigation for over two dozen deaths due to their alleged actions and in custody during the unrest and widespread looting that swept parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last month.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) is probing 30 deaths in police custody and as a result of police action.
Ipid is the government agency that conducts independent investigations on criminal offences allegedly committed by members of the SA Police Services (SAPS) and metro police departments.
The directorate is investigating 26 deaths due to police action, including 17 in KZN and nine in Gauteng, according to documents obtained by Independent Media.
In both provinces, two deaths of suspects in police custody were reported to the Ipid.
The directorate also received reports of three deaths as a result of police action at the Phoenix police station in Durban as well as nine cases of assault.
Phoenix came under scrutiny last month following reports that a massacre occurred in the area after vigilantes and private security companies rounded up Africans during the unrest and looting.
At the end of the unrest and looting, at least 36 people were reported dead in Phoenix and police linked their deaths directly to the protests and vandalism that started ostensibly as a campaign against the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma for contempt of court.
Ipid received a total of 74 cases – 61 in KwaZulu-Natal and 13 in Gauteng – and these include 25 cases of assault, 17 complaints of discharge of official firearm and two cases of torture either by SAPS officers or metro cops.
In total, the SAPS’s figures show that of the 360 people killed during the unrest, 280 died in KZN and another 80 in Gauteng.
Police have also opened 177 murder cases, 65 inquest files and two culpable homicide investigations in KZN.
In Gauteng, 36 murders are being investigated and 26 inquest files have been opened.
Ipid’s investigations have not been without challenges, with the directorate encountering uncooperative witnesses and the volatile situation making it difficult for investigators to access some of the victims and witnesses.
The directorate also experienced a high case intake during the unrest which made it difficult to attend some of the crime scenes timeously.
”Other crime scenes were not attended immediately due to safety reasons as police were also attacked in certain communities. In certain instances, there were shootings involving communities, the police and private security making it difficult to ascertain who was responsible for the shooting,” Ipid explained.
In some communities, complained Ipid, residents are sometimes reluctant to cooperate with investigations for fear of being investigated by the SAPS for their role in looting.
Its investigations have also not been spared by the Covid-19 pandemic as some police stations and forensic laboratories were forced to shutdown due to reported cases.
Witnesses were also reluctant to meet investigators due to the pandemic.
Ipid’s acting national spokesperson Grace Langa yesterday said the investigations were still ongoing.
”We cannot attach time frames or deadlines to investigations because cases differ on their merits so it will be difficult to tell as to when these will be completed,” she said.
Langa said disciplinary action against police officers remained with the SAPS as Ipid can only recommend internal disciplinary actions but has no powers to enforce them.
Following the release of the quarterly crime statistics for the period between March and June last week, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union complained that understaffing, uneven allocation of resources, shortages of ammunition and training were all part of the underlying challenges faced by the SAPS.
The Consumer Goods Council of SA estimated that the impact of the unrest on the country’s gross domestic product was R50 billion.