Police brutality cases in South Africa spiked when the national lockdown was instituted to delay the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19), according to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) annual report.
This information was revealed by accountability journalism project Viewfinder editor Daneel Knoetze during his presentation at a virtual webinar organised by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) to discuss police brutality in the country.
The seminar presented preliminary results of an investigation into some of the more than 40 000 cases lodged with Ipid since 2012/13, to analyse the use of force by police in South Africa.
He said many of the cases have been identified in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, which are known for high crime rates.
“More than half of the cases taken by Ipid are cases of assault, at around 26 000. I know from experience that these kinds of cases are really at the root of a norm in terms of carrying dockets and not having capacity,” said Knoetze.
He said torture accounted for 1 000 cases and demonstrated that torture mechanisms used during apartheid are still being used in policing and during police custody.
He said it was also concerning that there were a high number of rape cases against police officials – almost a third of cases being committed by police officers on duty.
He acknowledged that a minority of police officers were not perpetrators but stated that there was a culture of abuse in the police service and a passive endorsement through the ranks, especially when it comes to perceived criminals and whether its justified to torture and harm them.
Lawyers for Human Rights head, strategic litigation programme and acting deputy director Wayne Ncube said his organisation’s hotline received 52 reports of police brutality during lockdown.
He said it was important to note that some incidents of police brutality were not reported.
“Many people don’t know how to report police brutality because at the police stations they either get chased away or are given a case number, but nothing happens afterwards,” he said.
Ncube said it was bizarre that police directly intimidated victims and he said this happened in large numbers.
“It is important to protect the victims once they decide to go on with the cases. Ipid has to do something to make sure that such cases are attended to,” he stressed.
He claimed that lawyers in KZN were fearful of taking on police brutality cases.
“The system is broken in such a way that I have had to help police officers who wish to get accountability over their superior officers. You can imagine if an ordinary citizen reports such cases. This affects people of colour and poor people in most cases,” Ncube highlighted.
He argued that lack of accountability, proper training and lack of conduct were significant issues.
He said the reality was that there was an element of class in many cases of brutality.
“One of the problems with police brutality is that it has become normalised in South African culture, but civil society has to deal with that. I have a problem of how it has become normalised in the media as well. We saw how the Cape Town Mayor tried to justify the brutal events towards foreign nationals,” Ncube said.