Six members of an East Rand police dog unit were arrested on Tuesday, just hours before horrific footage of white dog handlers setting their animals on black illegal immigrants was shown on television.

"I was horrified and outraged by these scenes of brutality and racism," said Safety and Security Minister Tshwete, who previewed the footage shown on SABC3's Special Assignment.

Tshwete viewed scenes of six policemen setting their dogs on three suspected illegal immigrants, and assaulting their hapless, screaming victims on a mine dump near Springs on the East Rand.

Expressing his horror, Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi said steps would be taken to have those responsible suspended.

The footage captured members of the North East Rand Dog Unit - named as Inspectors Christo Koch and Eugene Truter and Sergeants Kobus Smith, Dino Guitto, Robert Henzen and Nicolaas Laubser - relentlessly encouraging the dogs to be as violent as possible with the victims.

The victims pleaded for their lives with the policemen, who hurled racial abuse at the men as they punched, kicked and slapped them.

The officers stamped on the men's necks and faces as the animals tore into their flesh.

In one section it appeared that a piece of a dog's tooth had come loose and was embedded in the flesh of one of the victims.

Two alsatians, which were joined by another large dog, which appeared to be a cross-breed, attacked the men with such ferocity and strength that they were able to lift one of the men up in their jaws from his crouching position in the veld.

The dogs were also able to drag the men along the ground.

When the animals were finally called off, the police officers lined up the three injured men and assaulted them further.

One of the officers asked a victim: "Is jy 'n kaffir? Se jy is 'n kaffir!" (Are you a kaffir? Say you're a kaffir).

The man was then hit across the side of his head, and asked if he had heard of WWF (as in the World Wrestling Federation). He was then punched to the ground and stamped on the face. Other officers were heard laughing in the background.

Before the men were kicked again and then bundled into a minibus with the dogs that had mauled them, one of the policemen threw stones at the men, and another pulled his weapon from his holster, but did not fire.

The two ringleaders in the assault were identified by Special Assignment as Sergeant Smith and Inspector Koch. The producers said Koch had since been promoted and now heads a dog squad at the unit.

The film, which was taken in January 1998, was supplied to Special Assignment about 10 days ago, presumably by another police officer or an associate who filmed it with the clear knowledge of the members of the dog unit seen on the film.

The police officers referred to the camera, even describing their actions as part of a "training video".

Special Assignment received the footage in its edited form. The programme's directors did not edit it further.

From the time-clock at the bottom of the screen, it is evident that the savagery continued for about an hour, although viewers witnessed only the sections of it as supplied to Special Assignment.