Lawyers for Human Rights calls for urgent probe of taxi driver’s death

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) on Friday added its voice in calling for an urgent investigation by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) into the death of Mozambican national Mido Macia — allegedly due to police brutality after being dragged behind a police vehicle and assaulted while in detention.

The taxi driver was found dead in the holding cells of the Daveyton police station in Ekurhuleni on Tuesday night.

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega has since suspended eight officers, including the station commander, saying she wanted the investigations not to be hindered.

LHR national director Jacob van Garderen said on Friday that police abuse of people, particularly foreign nationals, was all too familiar to LHR, which saw such incidents on a weekly basis.

He said that every year about 800 people died in police-related deaths and the government paid up to R14bn annually to compensate victims or their families for assault, unlawful arrests and destruction of goods.

"Over the past few weeks LHR has seen a rise in attacks against homeless people and foreign nationals in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, who are unlawfully arrested and brutally assaulted. They are then released without pursuing any charges, making it clear that this is meant to be a form of intimidation," he said.

"It is of grave concern that these raids coincide with these reports of people being beaten with sjamboks and batons during arrests and detention."

Mr van Garderen said mismanagement and heavy-handedness on the part of SAPS made it far from the ideal of a professional police service.

IPID was a crucial oversight institution, LHR said, but it lacked sufficient resources.

"This places added onus on arms of government like Parliament and provincial legislatures to take up their own oversight mandates. A broader inquiry is essential in digging into the increasingly aggressive stance of the SAPS," Mr van Garderen said.

Mr Macia’s death was the latest in a long line of SAPS scandals. Other notable instances included the murder of Andries Tatane in a protest in Ficksburg in 2011.

The South African Human Rights Commission, which probed Tatane’s death, released its finding in October 2012. It criticised the SAPS ability to deal with protests, including failing to authorise a "suitably qualified" member to represent police at negotiations with protesters and to ensure sufficient police officers were deployed.

More recently, 44 people died in August last year in violence at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, with 34 striking mineworkers shot dead by police on August 16. The commission of inquiry into those events is still under way.

The LHR called on senior politicians and police officials to refrain from making populist statements that echoed former police commissioner Bheki Cele’s controversial "shoot to kill" comments as these tended only to incite further violence.

"We also suggest better training and strategies to be put in place when dealing with protests and for improved assistance for victims of police brutality."

  • This article first appeared in Business Day on 1 March 2013