South African police dragging video underscores fears of brutality

February 28, 2013

A video of uniformed Johannesburg police dragging a man behind their truck has sparked a homicide investigation and renewed fears of police brutality in South Africa, a country that has long struggled with the issue.

The video -- which may be disturbing to some, and which was posted by Johannesburg’s Daily Sun on Thursday -- shows several police dragging a man to a large truck. Police then appear to handcuff the man’s hands to the back of the truck and drive away, as a horrified crowd chases after it and another police vehicle follows behind.

The National Post reports the man, a taxi driver from Mozambique, was later found dead in his police cell of head injuries and internal bleeding. He had been arrested for parking illegally.

“Do you still think apartheid was any better?” Reads one of thousands of comments on the video. “As a country we are ... moving backwards.”

But while South Africa’s police watchdog and police commissioner have both expressed “shock” and promised investigations, incidents like this are not uncommon in South Africa.

According to Amnesty International’s annual report on human rights, 797 people there died in custody as a result of “police action” in 2012, alone. Last August, police shot dead 34 miners striking at the Marikana platinum mine, the most deadly police action since apartheid ended. And in July 2009, according to Independent Online, South Africa’s then police commissioner told reporters he wanted police to "shoot to kill" suspects without worrying about "what happens after that.”

The issue came up again just last week, when news broke that Hilton Botha, the lead detective in the Oscar Pistorius case, faces attempted murder charges dating back to 2009.

Not long after those charges came out, Justice Malala -- a South African writer and political analyst -- argued in a column for The Guardian that police violence is only getting worse.

"So soon after the horrific shooting of 34 striking mine workers at Lonmin's Marikana mine last August by police, the Botha charges draw attention to this question," he wrote. "Is democratic South Africa's police service turning into a violent force akin to its apartheid predecessors?"

Here is the video, which some may find disturbing:

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Max Fisher | February 28, 2013