The police killings continue even in our democracy
Today, South Africa is commemorating Human Rights Day where on March 21, 1960, in what is known historically as the Sharpeville Massacre – where apartheid police mowed down killed 69 unarmed men, women and children during a protest against pass laws that was organised by the PAC under the leadership of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.
Mass killings, police brutality and the violation of human rights were common during the apartheid era.
Even on the eve of a new dawn, police brutality and mass killings never stopped. The Boipatong Massacre and the Munsieville killings are two examples of murders being committed by the police during the transition period, when the ANC, the National Party and other parties were still locked in negotiations for a peaceful political settlement.
After 1994, we had a new democratic dispensation and a constitution that guaranteed the right to life and protection for every citizen in this country, and yet, the killing of black people, especially, at the hands of the police continues.
The shooting and the killing of a 33-year-old father, Andries Tatane, during service delivery protests in Ficksburg in 2011, sent shock waves throughout South Africa and what was even more unjustifiable was that the seven police officer charged with his murder, were acquitted of all crimes two years later.
Then, a year later in 2012, the Marikana Massacre happened. The police used lethal force on striking Lonmin miners and killed 32 in a matter of hours, which by far became the deadliest show of brutality since 1994.
Now 61 years after Sharpeville, the list of police killings is getting longer and longer in South Africa. Just this week, the family of Mthokozisi Ntumba had to bury their son who died tragically in Braamfontein last week, at the hands of the police.
Ntumba was leaving a surgery when the police shot him at close range during a student protest against exclusion from university because of student debt. They left him to die on the pavement as they went on with their business of shooting rubber bullets at the protesting students.
Activist and leader of the 1976 Soweto uprising Seth Mazibuko said the killing of black people by the police has not changed and has remained the same even after the removal of the apartheid government.
“The way blacks used to be killed by the apartheid police has not changed. Black life does not matter, even under the black government. Police are still groomed and trained as they were during apartheid, that if it is a black person, they must shoot to kill and that every black person is a criminal, Mazibuko said.
“The SANDF did not go to Alex and other places to protect people against Covid-19 pandemic, but to shoot and kill black people. In Marikana, they were instructed to protect the system against criminals who are blacks. They also did it during the #Feesmustfall demonstrators that were speaking and pronouncing black poverty and fighting for blacks inclusion,” said Mazibuko.
Mazibuko has also accused the government of protecting the interests of “capitalists and those who stole our land”, adding that they are benefiting in killing black people.
“You can’t ask the government to do enough to protect black people when they are busy protecting capitalists and those who stole our land. They have a lot to gain in killing blacks.
How does the family of Mthokozisi (Ntumba) celebrate human rights, how how do Wits students who are excluded celebrate Human Rights Day from what happened in Sharpeville on this day, under the apartheid government?” asked Mazibuko.
According to political analyst Dr Metji Makgoba, the killing of black people is part of the legacy of colonialism that has not been addressed since South Africa became a democratic country in 1994.
“Since the South African police, as a cultural, legal and social institution of neo-colonialism, does not consider blacks as human beings, violating and killing them becomes an ideologically and naturally given because the police themselves don’t see us as humans and are not able to have any form of ethical relationship with us.
“These are the legacies of colonialism that have not been addressed since 1994. The South African police is a racist organisation that is managed by blacks which systematically metes out violence against black people,” he charged.
“White supremacy has constructed black people as violent and non-human beings and continues to be the normative and guiding framework of the South African police that has naturalised and normalised the violence against blacks.
“As a result, there is a long-standing perception that associates black people with violence. The police regard blacks with suspicion because they don’t consider them humans. This is worsened by the fact that the government only expects violence from black people. Black people have to burn things to get attention from their own black government,” he said.
Political analyst Xolani Dube said the killing of black people by police has been normalised.
“People have been killed under colonialism and the same happened during apartheid and even post-1994. The life of a black person has become worthless in South Africa. This is because there’s no political will and protection from the black government to value and honour the black life.”
While Dr Ralph Mathekga said it was a concern that the majority of people in the country that is made up of blacks, fear the police.
“It is a travesty and a concern. This cannot continue as normal. South Africa needs to have this dialogue where proactive measures are taken so that we take common responsibility.”
Institute for Security Studies (ISS) researcher Gareth Newham blamed the politicisation of the SAPS.
“The National Development Plan identifies the “serial crises of top management” in the police. For most of our democracy, none of the permanently appointed SAPS National Commissioners was a highly experienced, trained police officer with irreproachable integrity.
“Since 2012, following the appointment of Riah Phiyega, the SAPS went into serious decline which has continued. The lessons from Marikana were not taken on board, those responsible for the deaths of 34 striking miners have not been held accountable and very little has changed.”
Newham said the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) does not have sufficient resources to tackle police brutality.
“However, it is not Ipid’s job to end police brutality. Rather, it is only expected to investigate allegations against specific police officers. According to the SAPS Act, it is the responsibility of the SAPS National Commissioner to ensure that police officers are disciplined and where necessary, that those involved in wrongdoing are held directly accountable,” he said.
Ipid spokesperson Ndileka Cola on Thursday told the Sunday Independent that she would look at the questions and respond. However, she did not respond.