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South African police brutality at record levels, justice group finds

(GIN) — With the defeat of apartheid, a new Black leadership runs South African ministries, businesses and schools but an abusive police force appears to have survived the cultural and social changes.

Last year, five thousand complaints were lodged against the South African police and 720 deaths in police custody were reported, according to the Witz Justice Project of South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand.

Among the notorious cases this year was the point-blank shooting of striking miners of the Marikana mines by police and the death of Mido Macia, a Mozambican migrant taxi driver who was tied to the back of a police van and dragged along the road. He later died in custody.

The Justice Project, staffed by journalists, lawyers and students, collected testimonies that told of brutality from beatings to suffocation used to extract confessions.

“Torture hasn’t suddenly reared its ugly head,” said Professor Peter Jordi of the Wits Law Clinic who specializes in the subject of torture. “It’s never stopped … It was carried out at police stations before and continues today.”

In days past, he said, mostly political detainees were tortured. Today, “if you’re a criminal arrested for armed robbery, you face exactly the same fate,” said Jodi.

With video recording devices widely available, evidence of police misconduct is mounting. On April 5, an officer in Free State province was captured on video chasing a woman who fell to the ground, where he then stomped on her head. Two officers attempted to restrain their colleague but then let him go. Interviewed on eNews Channel Africa (eNCA.com), Moses Dlamini of the internal investigative unit of police, called the video “shocking” yet dashed hope of prosecution because the victim was afraid to make a report.

The right to be free from torture is enshrined in South Africa’s constitution. However, “police torture is a daily occurrence in Gauteng where I practice,” said Jordi. “I probably handled more than 20 torture cases against the police in Gauteng alone last year.”

Meanwhile, seven police officers accused of killing community activist Andries Tatane were acquitted to public outcry this month.

Despite a video of the police shooting seen widely, prosecutors said police witnesses have changed their testimony and it would be unlikely the case would be won on appeal. It prompted a popular TV show “The Big Debate” on Sunday to ask the question “Are the police out of control?”

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