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Human Rights Watch calls for SAPS to suspend use of rubber bullets after Mthokozisi Ntumba’s death

Mthokozisi Ntumba was shot and killed during a protest a Wits University. Picture supplied

Mthokozisi Ntumba was shot and killed during a protest a Wits University. Picture supplied

Published Mar 15, 2021

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Johannesburg - Human Rights Watch in SA has called for the SAPS to place a moratorium on the use of shotgun-fired rubber bullets following the death of Mthokozisi Ntumba, a 35-year-old bystander who was shot dead during protests at Wits University last week.

The death of Ntumba, as well as other victims who have died as a result of police action, has put the conduct of public order policing units under scrutiny.

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Human Rights Watch criticised the police for using excessive force in carrying out their duties and said the police fired at the student protesters at close range, without issuing warnings before doing so.

Ntumba was shot dead, allegedly by police, when he found himself in the line of fire as protesting students and police clashed in the streets of Johannesburg.

The students had blocked roads during their protest, in which they called for Wits University to allow all students who had been financially excluded to be allowed to register for the 2021 academic year.

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Ntumba, a government official, had just seen a doctor at a local medical centre when he was fatally wounded, allegedly by the police.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is investigating the circumstances that led to Ntumba’s death.

“The IPID investigation team is working around the clock processing voluminous evidence gathered earlier in the crime scene during the preliminary investigation it conducted.

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“It is alleged that the young man, who is a civilian, who was not part of the protest, had just left the doctor’s rooms when he was allegedly shot by the police officers.

“During the preliminary investigation, the directorate has managed to collect numerous witness statements, to confiscate firearms and the same will be taken for ballistic analysis, post mortem to determine actual cause of death will be conducted later this week, family liaison has started and the investigation continues,” said IPID spokesperson Ndileka Cola last week.

Dewa Mavhinga, the Southern African director for Human Rights Watch, said the SAPS had used excessive and disproportionate force in attempts to disperse protesting students last week.

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He called for a transparent investigation into Ntumba’s death and said a moratorium should be placed on the use of police rubber bullets in the meantime.

“The authorities should urgently and transparently investigate Ntumba’s killing, underscoring that security forces are supposed to enforce the law, and are not above it,” said Mavhinga, “Ntumba and his family deserve justice, which requires nothing less than punishing the police officers responsible for the reckless use of lethal force.

“The authorities should ensure that all South Africans are able to exercise their right to peacefully protest without fearing for their lives.

“The authorities need to place a moratorium on police use of shotgun-fired rubber projectiles until they complete a thorough review of police training and rules of engagement,” said Mavhinga.

Mavhinga said the police should use rubber bullets as a last resort and with the intention to cause minimal injury to protesters.

He said the UN Human Rights Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement said rubber bullets should be used only in direct fire with the aim of striking the lower abdomen or legs of a violent individual.

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