Every year, police in South Africa kill hundreds of people and are accused of brutalising thousands more. A new investigation by Viewfinder has revealed that the killings and brutality are enabled by police management’s reluctance to discipline officers accused of wrongdoing in these cases. This is true even when watchdog investigations conclude that these officers should be disciplined. Given free rein to re-offend, problem officers may become emboldened. For their victims, the consequences can be dire.
On 2 June 2014, 52-year-old Phindile Ramncwana lay dying at a neighbour’s house in Sada, a rural township in the former Ciskei region of the Eastern Cape. As Esther Kasam tended to him, she recoiled at the sight of blood and vomit in a five-liter container on the floor beside his bed. Ramncwana retched when he tried to eat. He complained of stabbing pains in his stomach, Kasam recalled during a recent interview.
“Phindile, what did you say when they were hitting you?” Kasam had asked.
“I was crying a lot. I asked what I had done to be beaten like this. I begged for forgiveness,” came his response.
People who said that they witnessed the assault would later provide statements to an investigator from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). They described how, on the night before, a police officer tackled Ramncwana to the ground in Whittlesea police station’s charge office when he apparently defied instructions “not to make a noise”. Ramncwana had been arrested earlier for being “drunk and disorderly”, according to police station records.
At least three other policemen, including a warrant officer who was on duty in a command role that night, joined in the assault, according to one witness’ statement. They slammed Ramncwana’s head first into the wall and then into the floor, they kicked him in the ribs as he lay shielding himself.