Abhorrent acts of brutality by police must be condemned

 On 13 March 2014 police officers allegedly brutally assaulted and tortured four men in uMlazi, KwaZulu-Natal. During Apartheid, police used these same tactics to suppress political dissidents.


We, as a concerned group of civil society organisations and social movements, strongly condemn all forms of torture and brutality by the police, including the incident in uMlazi. We support the statement issued by uBunye BamaHostel yesterday calling for the suspension of the police officers involved; a full investigation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID); compensation for the families of the victims; and an overhaul of SAPS in order to eject corrupt officials from the service.




uBunye BamaHostel describes itself as a non-political organisation that unites hostel residents across ethnic and political lines in order to promote cultural tolerance and peace. According to uBunye Bamahostel, on 13 March four men in Glebelands Hostel in uMlazi were watching soccer on TV when seven plainclothes police officers appeared at their door and demanded entry, claiming that there were illegal firearms in the room. The officers failed to produce SAPS identification or a warrant. One of the residents, who works for a security company, showed the officers his firearm and firearm license. This did not satisfy the officers, who began kicking and beating the four men before forcing them down four flights stairs into a waiting police van and taking them to the local police station.  One of the men was dressed only in his underwear.


At the station the men were divided according to their ethnic groups (three of the residents were Pondo and one was Zulu). The officers then produced four bags of apparatus commonly used in the torture technique known as “tubing”. Tubing involves covering the victim’s head with a plastic bag or some other clinging material, then suffocating them until they lose consciousness or die. Sometimes the bag or tubing is filled with water. Perpetrators of torture prefer this method because it does not leave the visible marks that a beating would. The officers then told the men, “You laaities are going  to shit yourselves!”


The police officers then led the man who worked as a security guard away from the others into another room. The three other men heard screaming coming from the room. One of the officers ran out of the room and asked them if their friend is prone to epileptic attacks, to which they replied ‘no’. The three men were then held overnight and released in the morning, without being charged.





IPID contacted the victim’s family to inform them that the man was dead and that IPID was conducting an investigation. He leaves behind a wife and four young children.




Last year Parliament passed the Prevention of Combating and Torture of Persons Act (Act 13 of 2013), in line with its obligations under the UN Convention against Torture. This Act defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person … by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity”. Perpetrators are liable to imprisonment, including a life sentence.


Unfortunately, torture remains a common practice in the police services. According to IPID, 4 181 cases of assault by police officers were reported between 2012 and 2013. This included at least 50 cases of torture; at least 12 of those cases involved suffocation using a tube or bag. There were also 431 cases of death as a result of police action, and 275 cases of death in police custody. What makes these figures even more concerning is the fact that people often don’t lay a complaint because of fear of reprisals from the police. This conduct by police officers demonstrates a culture of impunity within the service.




We strongly denounce such acts of brutality and torture. The leadership of SAPS must demonstrate a willingness to act against such unacceptable conduct by police officers. We call for the National Commissioner to make a statement condemning acts of torture and brutality, as well as apologising to the families of the victims. The officers involved must be suspended immediately, pending the outcome of an investigation. We call on IPID to conduct a prompt investigation into the allegations. The National Commissioner must also report to Parliament on the steps taken by her to address the high number of rights violations allegedly perpetrated by police officials and measures taken to address the systemic causes thereof.


This statement is supported by the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum, the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative, Egon A. Oswald Attorneys at Law, Equal Education, Free Gender, Gun Free South Africa, the Human Rights Institute of South Africa, Just Detention, Ndifuna Ukwazi, Phoenix Zululand Restorative Justice Programme, Right2Know Campaign, the Social Justice Coalition, the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture, the Treatment Action Campaign.


If you have any questions or would like to sign on to this statement, please contact:


Phumeza Mlungwana (Social Justice Coalition) 074 417 8306
Craig Oosthuizen (Ndifuna Ukwazi) 071 611 7237
Claire Taylor (Gun Free South Africa) 072 341 3898
Valdi Van Reenen-Le Roux (The Trauma Centre) 082 821 2692
Mthembiseni Thusi (uBunye Bamahostel) 081 021 8608 / 073 889 4385


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