SAPS – the brutal truth.

On 11 June ’20 Police Minister Bheki Cele stated:   “In South Africa there is no police brutality. We should not behave as if police do as they please. We have arrested more than 300 police who steal alcohol [and] cigarettes. We have structures like the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) for accountability.”  He was voicing his concerns about the ANC’s Black Friday protest against police brutality, following the killing of George Floyd in the USA.

He went on to explain that in his mind there is no correlation between what happened in the USA and policing in SA, saying: “In SA there are no cover-ups. There is no link between what happened to George Floyd [and] here, because it is racial [violence by police] there and in SA it is not racial [violence].”

The IPID was created in April 1997 as part of the post-apartheid reform of the South African Police. It investigates deaths in custody, crimes allegedly committed by police officers, violations of SAPS policy, and dissatisfaction with the service provided by the police.   Based on their reports a summary of cases brought against the police during the past five years looks like this:

Almost 30 000 police brutality cases have been reported in SA, from 2014 to 2019. That comes with a shockingly low conviction rate plus over 96% of officers haven’t even faced disciplinary action yet.  Some other interesting stats from IPID:

  • Complaints increased by 30% during Covid-19 lockdown.
  • There were 29 892 reports of police brutality filed since 2014/15.
  • A total of 99 people reported they had been raped in police custody.
  • In fact, complaints regarding ‘rape by a police officer’ hit a five-year high in 2019 (124).
  • There have been more than 200 deaths per year in police custody over the past five years.
  • Just 3.9% of all complaints against police brutality over the last five years went to a disciplinary. Only 1.3% were criminally convicted.

But let’s go back a bit further. What was happening prior to 2014?  Award-winning Wits Justice Project senior journalist Carolyn Raphaely observed during an interview in 2014: “an entrenched culture of impunity, with little regard for consequence or culpability, indicates that South Africa has learnt little from the lessons of the past.  Assault, torture, beatings, as well as killings have become part and parcel of the modus operandi of the SAPS.”   According to her, “Only one conviction was obtained in 217 deaths, allegedly at the hands of the police or in police custody, as investigated by the directorate in Gauteng during 2011/12.”

Among the cases contained in the stats she was referring to was:

  • The August 2012 killing of 34 mineworkers in Marikana in the North West province;
  • The death of Mido Macia after being dragged behind a police van in Daveyton in Gauteng province;
  • The ruthless March 2014 assault on Clement Emekeneh in Cape Town that made headlines around SA.

Early in 2000 a New York Times editorial stated that statistics on killings by police indicate that police in South Africa ‘are more deadly today than they were during most of the last 25 years of apartheid’

Table extract from the report “Body Count: South African statistics on lethal police violence

David Bruce the then Senior Researcher of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation released a report as part of the 2005 South African review of sociology report 36(2), called – Interpreting the Body Count: South African statistics on lethal police violence.  This report covers the first years of democracy in SA and also the final decade under Apartheid rule.

Of interest is that it was during the first years of the “new democratic” South Africa  that the amendment to Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act, the law regulating the use of lethal force for purposes of arrest, was finally brought into operation on 18 July 2003, after being promulgated by parliament in 1998. Evidence from other countries, notably the USA (Geller & Scott, 1992:257-267), predicts that reforms of the law restricting the use of lethal force by police should be associated with overall declines in the number of shootings, and fatal shootings, by police. On the contrary however South Africa saw a substantial increase of 23% in the number of deaths resulting from police shootings in the 2003/2004 year. 

Killings by the Apartheid Government police have been the source of various debates over the years.  However numbers calculated using the annual figures declared by the then Minister of Law and Order, SAP reports, Cillie Commission reports, estimates of figures provided to the Human Rights Committee in 1996 and the Truth and Reconciliation cases, are widely recognised as most accurate.  Figure 2 gives a breakdown of some of these numbers.

Table extract from the report “Body Count: South African statistics on lethal police violence

The purpose of this article however, is not to proof that the currents SAPS is more brutal than the Apartheid SAP. The purpose is also not to highlight “race-based” police brutality, but police brutality across race and social classes – because Minister Cele might believe that it matters which race is killing which, but it shouldn’t.

The purpose of this article is to provide facts and to hopefully help readers steer clear of Confirmation Bias (the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information that confirms or support one’s prior personal beliefs or values that distorts evidence-based decision-making) when drawing their own conclusions.

And finally the purpose is to ask Minister Cele:  “Sir, between 2014 and 2019 an average of 9.13 cases of police brutality were made against the SAPS every day, how many should it be before you admit that police brutality might be a problem?

Published by Adéle

My career started in journalism late 80's and although I've spent the past two decades working in the marketing and business management fields, my love of political science, human behavior and current affairs never diminished. With "spare time" on hand during the global Covid-19 lock-down ... well a natural progression ... build a website (marketing) and write (journalism) about current happenings (passionate about specifically human rights). Covid-19 also saw the start of Local Savers a business borne from necessity that is growing continuously. Local Savers are committed to offering quality bulk food and related products at the best prices possible.

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