The South African police force still carries with it the brutally violent culture and practices which characterised apartheid policing. These trends are unlikely to be reigned in by a government that is progressively paranoid of people power, leaving the boys in blue to become further removed from the law that they are supposed to uphold.
‘Bafana, bam seater nikhulumane iqiniso nyakunya!’
[‘You boys had better start talking the truth because you’re going to shit yourselves.’">
These may be the last words he heard when the ‘plastic’ was forced over his head by members of the SAPS, and secured tightly around his throat. As he struggled, his breath was replaced by the soft clinging plastic of the bag, flattening his nose and stretching his mouth wide as he gasped in vain.
Suffocation does not kill quickly, especially when the process is repeated, again and again, to extract information from a victim who simply cannot provide it. He died during the month in which we are told we must celebrate our human rights – just another victim of our increasingly brutal boys in blue.
Since then, many more people have died and an incalculable number intimidated, assaulted and tortured by police. Used depressingly often by dictatorships to instill fear on society as a whole, torture - particularly ‘tubing’, ‘bagging’ or ‘waterboarding’ - was used regularly by the apartheid regime on political prisoners. It didn’t stop after 1994. It couldn’t when ‘Black Jack’ mentality was accommodated in the force. ‘Tube’ survivors have described the unspeakable terror and utter humiliation of their torture experience – a lifelong psychological trauma that, in the absence of closure brought by justice, is borne in silent alienation.
Police sources who admit to using this popular interrogation technique claim ‘only the inexperienced kill their victims by mistake’, or ‘stupidly’ leave evidence behind - like the bag or a body. Don’t get caught is the message they’ve clearly received.
When a police officer was asked if he ever thought about the impact of his actions on the victim’s family while ‘tubing’ a suspect, he replied, ‘No, we’re under pressure to get the info, it’s in the heat of the moment, we can’t wait for an investigation which goes nowhere. These are bad guys.’
The decomposition of our criminal justice system has produced police who don’t believe in the law – they have become the law, often unto themselves. And anyway, policing now is all about meeting targets instead of good investigative work. As long as extrajudicial ‘justice’ doesn’t cause too much embarrassment or is on the right side of ruling party priorities, all is well with the world - if not the populace.
But the act of torture dehumanizes the perpetrator as much as it does the victim. At what stage do killer cops become victims themselves? When they melt down and turn their service revolvers on themselves and their families? Or when they turn to serious crime, morphing seamlessly into truck-jackers and rapists, products of increasingly criminal state enterprise?
A government progressively paranoid of people power is unlikely to reign in increasingly unlawful law enforcement. It’s democracy down the barrel of a gun while credulous assurances from cop top brass, float away like tear gas over service delivery protests and the only ‘book’ to which the police are brought, is the one used in sermons for those they have killed.
It will take much more to repair our broken police service than disingenuous platitudes that echo hollow as a grave. Strident declarations by police spokesperson, Solomon Makgale, in response to the Right2Know’s Human Rights Day campaign against police brutality, that SAPS management is really on top of its game and ‘has always acknowledged instances where the police had acted outside the boundaries of the law’, should have us falling about laughing if we could only see a better future through our tears.
In memory of: Zinakile Fica who died while being tortured by members of the eMlazi SAPS on 13 March 2014, leaving destitute a young wife, four children and five-months-old baby;
And in solidarity with police brutality survivors Thulani Kati and Tsepo Jali who were tortured on 2 October 2014, allegedly by members of the Public Order Policing Unit, deployed by KZN Premier, Senzo Mchunu, four days after he declared ‘peace’ at Glebelands Hostel;
And the woman who cannot be named, also tortured by eMlazi SAPS members and detained at the station’s cells for forty hours without being charged or accused of any crime.
To date, despite SAPS and IPID investigations, no police members implicated in these crimes have been suspended, arrested, charged or sentenced. It is rumoured that one officer may have received a promotion.
For Dalisu Sangweni - a brave man who fought state corruption and paid the ultimate price.
May your voices live on…
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