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South African Policemen Face Murder Charges for Dragging

South Africa’s police chief Riah Phiyega
“We would like to assure the country, the world, that what was in the video is not how the South African Police Service in a democratic South Africa goes about its work,” South Africa’s police chief, Riah Phiyega, said. Photographer: Felix Dlangamandla/Foto24/Gallo/Getty Images

Eight South African police officers were arrested on murder charges for the death of a man they allegedly tied to the back of a van and dragged through the streets, as the president and ruling party condemned the latest incident of filmed police brutality.

The officers will appear on March 4 in the magistrate’s court in Daveyton, on the eastern outskirts of Johannesburg, where the incident happened, Moses Dlamini, spokesman for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, a police oversight body, said by phone today.

Policemen overpowered the taxi driver, tied his wrists to the back of a vehicle and dragged him through a crowd of people, footage broadcast on eNews Channel Africa showed. The rights of Mido Macia, a 27-year-old Mozambican who they were trying to arrest, “were clearly violated,” Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega told reporters in Pretoria.

“We would like to assure the country, the world, that what was in the video is not how the South African Police Service in a democratic South Africa goes about its work,” Phiyega said. “We fully support the principle of police being policed.”

The Feb. 26 incident follows the death of 34 people at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana platinum mine on Aug. 14. Police officers opened fire on a group of striking workers, most of whom were armed with machetes or wooden sticks, at the mine near Rustenburg following a week of protests. Eight policemen were charged after a protester, Andries Tatane, was shot and beaten during a demonstration in Ficksburg in the central Free State province in April 2011. Both incidents were captured by TV cameras.

Accepting Bribes

South Africa is struggling to maintain public trust in the security services. Phiyega was appointed after Bheki Cele was fired in the wake of a corruption scandal. Cele, who had urged officers to “shoot to kill” when faced with armed criminals, took over from Jackie Selebi, the ex-Interpol president who was jailed for 15 years for accepting bribes.

“The issue of police brutality is a major problem,” Kerwin Lebone, a researcher at the South African Institute for Race Relations in Johannesburg, said in a phone interview today. “There is a sense that a culture of impunity has taken root in the police force.”

The directorate conducted investigations into 932 deaths in police custody in the 12 months through March last year, its latest annual report shows. A total of 4,923 complaints were made against police during the year, the directorate said.

Violated Rights

The TV footage from Daveyton shows two men in police uniforms walking behind the car, one of them at times carrying Macia’s feet, before dropping him as the van speeds out of view. A preliminary postmortem suggested he died from head injuries, internal bleeding and other body injuries, Dlamini said by phone.

Police tried to arrest Macia when he refused to move his taxi that was blocking traffic, IPID said in an e-mailed statement.

A major reason police officers violate citizens’ rights is a lack of training, Lebone said. South Africa is trying to make the police force more professional through measures such as lengthening training to two years from six months, Phiyega said.

“This appalling incident involving excessive force is the latest in an increasingly disturbing pattern of brutal police conduct in South Africa,” Noel Kututwa, human rights group Amnesty International’s southern Africa director, said yesterday.

President Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National Congress condemned the act. “The visuals of the incident are horrific, disturbing and unacceptable,” Zuma said yesterday. “No human being should be treated in that manner.”

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