Mail & Guardian

‘With a rope around my

- Tshepang Edwin Makwati

“When we arrived at the Durban Deep Mine, it was already dusk. With a rope tied around my neck and my wrists cuffed, the police officers lowered me into an abandoned mine hole using a rope tied around my neck. They released a police dog into the pit. The dog mauled me from head to toe and I could not defend myself. I was in shock to the extent that I could not cry anymore. I did not think I was going to die; I knew I was going to die.

“After what seemed like eternity being bitten by the dog, two of the men jumped into the mine hole and got the dog off me. One of the men stood in front of me while the other one stood with a rubber tube behind me as I knelt on the blood-soaked earth. The one in front asked me how I feed goat kids when their mothers abandon them. I responded that I use a bottle with a teat. He then unzipped his trousers and shoved his penis in my mouth ordering me to demonstrat­e for him how the kids sucked the teat. I hesitated.

“The one behind me placed the rubber tube over my mouth and nose to suffocate me as the rest of the men above the pit taunted me: ‘Call Mandela and Malema to come and save you.’ After several minutes of drifting in and out of consciousn­ess, I eventually obliged and sucked the man’s penis until he ejaculated in my mouth and my face … These people are barbarians.”

These are the words of Takele Mahlabela, a 42-year-old labourer who ekes out a living by tending to his small stock in Snake Park, Soweto. Takele’s offence in November 2019 was failure to give the officers informatio­n on the whereabout­s of a man wanted in connection with a case of stock theft.

Takele’s saving grace arrived in the form of distant shouts: “We have seen those vehicle registrati­on numbers. If

you kill him, we will report you.” He reckons the voices belonged to zama zamas (unauthoris­ed miners), who operate in the area, and must have seen the group of about eight white men torturing him. The officers pulled Takele out of the open pit and drove him to Potchefstr­oom police station and then to Ventersdor­p, where the torture continued over the course of a few days.

While being duty bearers, in terms of internatio­nal human rights law, to prevent torture, many states reward and promote torture of political opponents, human rights defenders and people suspected of committing common crimes either directly or tacitly.

An all-white police unit with a cuffed and bloodied black man in democratic South Africa is reminiscen­t of apartheid. After almost three decades, little has changed, but although the race of the perpetrato­rs is often not white, torture victims still retain a black face.

Like many liberal democracie­s that

Some of the directorat­e’s many roles are to investigat­e complaints of police assault, torture and excessive use of force, as well as to implement policy for the police.

Daneel Knoetze, the editor of the online news site, Viewfinder, has examined what the directorat­e’s complaint data says about the nature of police brutality in South Africa, and why accountabi­lity continues to not be achieved.

He emphasises that police accountabi­lity is complex and varied, noting three issues that prevent the directorat­e being an effective state institutio­n.

First, the Ipid relies on the police to implement its policy recommenda­tions, making it easy for the police to ignore or use loopholes to exonerate their colleagues. have committed to the prohibitio­n of torture, South Africa is still to transform its commitment to actual compliance. Takele’s case was reported to the Independen­t Police Investigat­ive Directorat­e, but for the past two years the police watchdog has been “investigat­ing” — the standard dismissal by investigat­ive bodies in South Africa.

Only 1.3% of more than 30 000 police brutality cases involving police crimes ever reach the courts. The National Prosecutin­g Authority (NPA) regularly declines to prosecute because of unsubstant­iated accusation­s or lack of evidence. The veracity of the NPA’S justificat­ions is hard to establish for a body that has been the subject of controvers­y and alleged executive interferen­ce since its establishm­ent in 1996. Police cover-ups, corruption and lack of political will are also rampant in a country where the police service scooped top spot for corruption among all government department­s.

The second issue is the average caseload of an IPID officer is about 250 cases, resulting in strain and lack of quality management.

Third, the directorat­e is underfunde­d.

Additional­ly, the general mistrust of the police is highly profitable for South Africa’s vast and profitable private security industry.

Both the perceived incompeten­ce of the police and the fear of no safety drive and maintain the private security industry — an industry that itself lacks robust regulation.

The cost of police brutality is high, with the most obvious cost being the loss of human life.

The 2020 lockdown showed disparitie­s in policing, where the enforcemen­t of Covid-19 lockdown rules resulted in violence and death

As with the torture of detainees during apartheid, the aims of torture are manifold: to acquire informatio­n, elicit confession­s, punish or sometimes simply for sadistic ends. The continued prevalence of torture is evident in department­al statistics, databases of civil society organisati­ons, media articles and interactio­n with victims.

An average of 200 cases of torture are reported to the police watchdog annually, but this is certainly a fraction of the actual scale of torture in South Africa. The majority of torture cases go unreported for fear of reprisal or victims not knowing the procedures for reporting torture.

The ramificati­ons on society are far-reaching. Various studies show how the use of torture has contribute­d to generation­al trauma, an entrenched culture of violence and lack of social cohesion.

South Africa’s neighbour, Botswana, is one of Africa’s oldest democracie­s. But even in this “beacon

in black and coloured working-class neighbourh­oods and townships in the name of regulation­s, while gatherings in predominan­tly affluent white spaces resulted in zero deaths when police were present.

In addition to deaths caused by police, the cost of settling abuse, torture and loss of income cases as a result of police violence costs South Africa millions of rands a year.

Stuurman’s book concludes by offering up strategies and ideas that can foster an abolitioni­st vision in South Africa.

She argues that the decriminal­isation of drug use and sex work could lead to a major transforma­tion of the police because an opportunit­y would emerge to both reduce contact with the police and simultaneo­usly question what South Africa’s of democracy”, the police routinely torture people with impunity. Little is known of the middle-income country, often praised for being a “shining example” of democracy by outsiders unaware of its track record of brazen acts of torture.

In Botswana, there is no real prospect of torture becoming criminalis­ed through legislatio­n anytime soon despite the prohibitio­n of torture in Botswana’s constituti­on. The state has neither enacted laws criminalis­ing torture nor establishe­d mechanisms for its prevention. Botswana, like many African democracie­s, ratifies internatio­nal human rights treaties only to save face in the eyes of the internatio­nal community.

Internatio­nal human rights organisati­ons have condemned Botswana’s continued use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, but are less aware of the widespread use of torture and maiming by police officers, including waterboard­ing, breaking of bones, hooding and assault of

prisons are for.

“I think the abolition, for me, looks like obviously a slow and steady and progressiv­e sort of process, but I think abolition in South Africa looks like a far more functional civil society.

“It’s far more of a functional and capable state that meets people’s basic needs, and that doesn’t force, particular­ly working-class and poor people, into making completely impossible decisions or impossible choices all the time. And there should be less spending on the police because … it’s not the solution to crime,” Stuurman says. detainees (often leading to death). Botswana does not have a database or statistics on torture and other ill-treatment; nor does it have law enforcemen­t watchdogs or national human rights institutio­ns to hold the state accountabl­e. In the rare cases that torture is reported, victims have to report torture by police officers or the military to the police. Furthermor­e, the absence of anti-torture laws means that even if criminal sanctions were to be instituted, the remedies would be for common law crimes such as assault or assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

Ralf* was a junior non-commission­ed officer serving in the Botswana Defence Force when he was tortured by members of the Botswana Police Service. Ralf was wrongly accused of stealing an Uzi submachine gun from his battalion’s armoury. He was blindfolde­d and taken to a secluded area where he was suffocated with a tube, waterboard­ed, kicked and slapped, losing hearing in both his ears.

During the ordeal he was threatened with being killed and buried where “no one would ever find him”. Having acquired no informatio­n from him, the officers released him without charge to face his physical and mental scars — scars that may stay with him for the rest of his life. Despite overwhelmi­ng medical evidence proving the torture suffered by Ralf, eight years after his ordeal no action has been taken against the officers.

More victims continue to emerge with stories of torture by Botswana’s law enforcemen­t agencies. Victims who seek to report their ordeals have been told: “Once you are in police custody, you become the property of the state to deal with you as it pleases.” Unfortunat­ely, many citizens believe this because they are not aware of their human rights.

The police use torture to circumvent the “difficult part of policing” — acquiring evidence by carrying out proper investigat­ions. Police often play the role of prosecutor, judge and punisher. Where members of the public have attempted to record the police crimes, their recording devices have been confiscate­d and the footage destroyed. Police threaten those who report torture with trumpedup criminal charges and detention. Witnesses have reported hearing screams from police interrogat­ion rooms with interrogat­ors ordering the suspect to “talk’”

For decades, under the leadership of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe was a torture hub. The military junta that toppled Mugabe through what some euphemisti­cally call a “military assisted transition” in 2017 seems only to have stepped things up. The widely documented abduction and torture of female political activists Joanna Mamombe, Netsai Marova and Cecilia Chimbiri in May last year is but one example.

In all three countries torture is condoned. If we are to do away with torture once and for all, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa will need political will and strong institutio­ns.

*Name changed at the request of the interviewe­e for security reasons. Tshepang Edwin Makwati is a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, a human rights attorney and a Canon Collins scholar. He is a PHD candidate with the University of the Witwatersr­and.

This article was developed as part of the blog project, Troubling Power: Stories and Ideas for a More Just and Open Southern Africa, which marks the 40th anniversar­y of the Canon Collins Trust

 ?? Photo: Delwyn Verasamy ?? Not the answer: Police patrol the suburb of Yeoville in Johannesbu­rg after unrest flared up following the death of a man killed by a police officer. Cases of police violence cost the country millions of rands each year as the SAPS are compelled to pay their victims.
Photo: Delwyn Verasamy Not the answer: Police patrol the suburb of Yeoville in Johannesbu­rg after unrest flared up following the death of a man killed by a police officer. Cases of police violence cost the country millions of rands each year as the SAPS are compelled to pay their victims.

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