Police in Swaziland have shot dead a number of suspects recently in what appears to be a “Shoot-to-Kill” policy.
Last month a serial rapist suspect Bhekinkhosi Masina, popularly known as Scarface, was shot by police as they cornered him for arrest. Police say they only shot him in the thigh and he unexpectedly died of his injuries. The Times of Swaziland newspaper later revealed he had been shot six times, including in the head and back.
Since then it has been revealed that in a separate incident, a mentally ill man, Mduduzi Mngometulu, aged 34, was shot seven times by police and died of his injuries. He had four holes in his stomach, one in the leg and two bullet wounds on the left side of his chest.
The man’s family said they had called police to help them get him to hospital for treatment. Police later said they had to defend themselves from the man. His family told local media they believe the police murdered him.
Mduduzi’s father, Enock Mngometulu, said the family witnessed the shooting. “The police just opened fire on my son. All he had in his hand was a bush knife and he was not threatening to harm anyone. They shot him in cold blood, in front of his family.”
He said his son did not pose a threat to the people present. He added: “To us it looks like murder. We watched as the police officer shot at my son until he fell to the ground.”
These are not isolated incidents in Swaziland where police have a growing record of killing or maiming suspects before arrest. The cases have largely gone unreported outside of the kingdom itself.
In one example, police executed a suspect, Thabani Mafutha Dlamini, at Nkwalini in Hlatikulu in the presence of his colleagues and home boys in what local media called “cowboy style”. The Swazi Observer newspaper reported the incident in December 2011 saying: “Police had previously warned the mother of the dead man to ‘budget for funeral expenses’ as they intended to remove him. He was said to be on a police ‘wanted list’”. Dlamini was unarmed.
The Observer added: “The gunning down of Dlamini has sparked anger not only from his family but also a number of residents, who were calling for a probe to establish if it was necessary for the trigger happy police officers to kill him.”
In a separate case in February last year, a Swazi policeman shot Mbongeni Masuku, described in media as a Form IV pupil, in the head in what was later described as “an execution-style killing”.
The killing happened outside a bar in Matsapha, an industrial town in Swaziland.
Masuku’s uncle Sigayoyo Maphanga said Mbongeni had been dragged out of his car by police. He told the Swazi Observer, a policeman whom he named, “shot my nephew at the back of the left ear and he fell on the ground with blood oozing from his mouth and ears. We were all shocked and angered by such brutality from police officers.”
In a separate case in May 2011, Mathende Matfonsi was shot dead by police while he was attending a field of dagga, inside the remote forests of Lomahasha near the border with Mozambique.
His family accused the police of “cold-blooded murder”. Matfonsi was shot dead at Ebhandeni, the same area where Nkosinathi Khathwane had previously been shot dead by soldiers at night.
The police told residents that Matfonsi fired at them and they shot back. The family said he was unarmed.
In March 2010, police shot a man as he was trying to surrender to them. This time the victim, Mncedisi Mamba, did not die. His mother, Thoko Gamedze, said Mamba had his hands up and was surrendering to police, but they shot him anyway. She said he was not running away nor was he fighting. She said: “All the bullets were shot from the front, this shows that the police were just out to hurt, not to arrest him.”
She added: “He was not armed and he raised his hands to show that he was not fighting nor running away from the police but willing to cooperate.”
It is not only crime suspects who get shot. Legitimate protestors are also targets. In February 2012, a woman at a protest march in Siteki, called by vendors and transport operators over plans by the town hall to move the local bus rank, was shot in the hand as she walked away from police. Reports said she was only 2m away from police when they fired.
Police in Swaziland also shoot innocent bystanders. In May, a student was shot in the leg by police as they tried to break up a protest at the Limkokwing private university in Mbabane. The 23-year-old was not part of the protest and was caught in crossfire, according to human rights activists in the kingdom.
Police officers seem to be able to carry out killings unhindered in Swaziland, a small state landlocked between Mozambique and South Africa. Abuses of human rights in the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, are well documented. All political parties are banned and freedom of assembly is severely curtailed. When legally-sanctioned public demonstrations do take place, police routinely fire rubber bullets and teargas at protesters.
Police and security forces are often used by the state to suppress dissent. Police have been known to break up legitimate public meetings, acting on their own initiative and without court orders, if they suspect topics of a “subversive” nature are being discussed. The draconian Suppression of Terrorism Act 2010 makes any form of opposition potentially illegal.
Human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, have reported that police also routinely torture suspects they have arrested for questioning on criminal matters.
Despite complaints from the press, public and human rights activists, no police officers have been called to account over the killings. Police say that they are obliged to kill suspects in order to protect themselves from attack. No independent inquiry has ever been held into police killings.
One legal expert in Swaziland believes the Swaziland Constitution of 2005 might allow police to enforce a “Shoot-to-Kill” policy. Jackson Rogers, who writes the Swazi Bill of Rights blog, reports that s15 of the constitution states deadly force that is “reasonably justifiable and proportionate in the circumstances of the case” may be used among other reasons, “in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;” or “in order to prevent the commission by that person of a serious criminal defence.”
Rogers says the tendency of the section “is to make police believe they have a licence to kill”.
The Swaziland Human Rights and Public Administration Commission takes a different view of s15 of the constitution.
In 2010, following a spate of police shootings, the commission chair Rev. David Matse pleaded with the police and army to “consider the law before shooting at suspects”.
He said even if a person is escaping from lawful custody, other means of arresting that person can be attempted before the suspect’s life is considered expendable.
“When it has been necessary to take life, let there be proof that all other remedies were exhausted and that there was no other alternative,” he said.
* BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!
* Richard Rooney blogs at Swazi Media Commentary www.swazimedia.blogspot.com