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World worry about SA police

22 January 2014
Schalk Mouton

AN increase in police brutality and the failure to take action against corrupt police officials, as well as failure to deal with xenophobia, are serious concerns affecting the rule of law in South Africa.

This is according to the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), which released the South African chapter of its World Report 2014 in Johannesburg yesterday.

"In an election year, where we can probably expect to see more protests coming up, we're just warning the South African government that human rights [violations] might take a turn for the worse," HRW Southern African director Tiseke Kasambala warned.

While South Africa had done a lot to protect against human rights abuses on the continent, it had failed consistently to protect against human rights abuses at home, she said.

The report paints a picture of how South Africa for several consecutive years has gone backwards in safeguarding human rights.

"Mismanagement and corruption ... are affecting social service delivery in this country and that is what is leading to protests.

"And then what we are seeing is that dealing with those protests leads to human rights violations," Kasambala said. The HRW also expressed concern about:

  • Ongoing xenophobic attacks in May and June and the government's failure to deal with the problems, having made arrests but refusing to acknowledge the violence was motivated by xenophobia.

  • Failure to deal properly with the inquiry into the Marikana killings as the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, which was supposed to be finalised in four months, keeps dragging on.

  • Issues relating to gender equality, with South Africa having played an important but inconsistent role in advancing the human rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people internationally, but not on the domestic front.

The HRW also said while South Africa had been elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council in November, the government was at odds with its own human rights principles.

"In August, it endorsed flawed elections in Zimbabwe and its expressions of concern at the escalation of violence in Syria have been tempered by reluctance to condemn President Bashar al-Assad's abuses against his own citizens," Kasambala said.

On service delivery protests, Kasambala said police seemed to think they should clamp down on them rather than police them.

"People do have the right to assembly here in South Africa and that type of police brutality is like what we've seen in places like Zimbabwe, so South Africa should be concerned when increasingly we see people are dying in protests."

Last week, three people died during a protest in North West, two shot by police and one falling from a police Nyala.

"A lot more needs to be done in the training of police," she said.

On anti-gay violence, Kasambala said the constitution provided strong protection for human rights.

Nevertheless, "people are being attacked because of their sexual orientation or perceived refugee or migrant status", Kasambala said.

"To make matters worse, the government is supporting legislation to curb the rights to freedom of information and expression."

Institute of Security Studies researcher Dr Johan Burger said while incidents of police brutality had increased by more than 300% from 2001 to 2011, they had decreased by 7% in 2012 to 1722 cases.

Burger said police officers were under extreme stress, although a Police Ministry spokesman said such conditions did not give police an excuse to abuse their power.

Reader's Comments

Report Abuse Author: FMOTL Date: 22 January 2014 13:49

Quoting your constitutional rights to a cop with the intelligence of a marine mollusc will not prevent him from 'offering you his service' at the barrel of a gun. In my own life with an incident involving black policemen, they looked at me with blank eyes breathing with their mouths open when I asked them about their legal standing, legal mandate and proof of jurisdiction that justified their crime in accosting an unarmed man like me. I even quoted parts of the RSA constitution and the road traffic act to peace officers that 'arrested' me illegally (by stopping me on the side of the road without them having witnessed me breach the peace or having proof that I caused damage to people or property at the time) and it looked as if they have never heard anything like that before. We have stupid and ignorant police and peace officers that can hardly finish coherent sentences wearing funny costumes with funny hats on and armed to kill, abusing their power against the public without restraint. You cannot argue law, standing and jurisdiction and stand on your rights with a baboon carrying a gun. These so-called public servants need to be reminded that they are 'servants' to the people who pay their salaries and respect the law and our rights and until we start forcefully standing on our rights against these 'servants' who abuse their mandates, we face tyranny in the land. It is time that the people arm and 'police' themselves and their communities. We don't need a bunch of gun toting baboons running around with their guns blazing.

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