Mail & Guardian
Police need policing
Judging by evidence presented in the trial of three Eldorado Park police officers — Caylene Whiteboy, Simon “Scorpion” Ndyalvane and Vorster Netshiongolo — it’s fair to say that in South Africa, the poor are neither seen nor heard.
And should they make their presence known, the police ensure they are swiftly dealt with. Police brutality is no secret in South Africa. With an underfunded and thinly-stretched police watchdog mired in controversy and a police force encouraged towards violence, the killing of a 16-year-old with Down syndrome was bound to happen.
The trio are accused of the fatal shooting of Nathaniel Julies outside his home in Eldorado Park, Gauteng, on 26 August last year. Testimony in the trial has rekindled questions about the police service’s heavyhandedness in public order exercises and the ease with which police officers attempted to plant evidence to absolve themselves of murder.
What happened after the teen was gunned down would be entertaining if it wasn’t so tragic. The similarities between the Hollywood blockbuster Training Day and court transcripts are uncanny. Both feature an antagonistic and seemingly corrupt senior cop and his outlawed ammunition, a fresh graduate trainee on a lawless enforcement operation and a coverup that went wrong.
The impunity with which the police operate on a daily basis has been laid bare time and again, even before Andries Tatane’s death in
2011 during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg in the Free State or the public order policing we witnessed in the Marikana massacre.
The implementation of Covid-19 protocols has notched the use of excessive force by law enforcement further up in the public consciousness. The extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic may have jolted the public into awareness, but citizens’ trust in those asked to enforce the law has been waning for some time — with good reason. According to the Victims of Crime survey for 2017-18, published by Statistics South Africa, public approval of the police was at 54.2%, a drop of 10% over seven years. Further proof of the erosion of trust comes from the World Economic Forum, which, also in 2018, reported that South Africans rated the reliability of our police services to “enforce law and order” at 118th of 137 countries.
The killing of Nathaniel Julies is an example of the structural problems in the police service and how badly there is a need for reform. There is a disconnect between the mandate of law enforcement and the perception of the execution of their duties. Many neighbourhoods such as the one Nathaniel grew up in fear the police instead of looking to them as a source of protection.
Although none of this is new, it is incumbent on us to not accept this as normal. Poverty is not a moral failing and police violence is not deserved for not having means. The tools and the research to fix this problem are there. What is lacking is political will.