Eight South African police officers were charged with murder on Friday for the death of a taxi driver dragged by a police vehicle, a videotaped incident which became a worldwide symbol of police brutality in the country.
Earlier on Friday, friends and relatives of Mido Macia gathered around a simple table adorned with a few flowers in the poor township of Daveyton, to mourn the death the slender 27-year-old who died shortly after the dragging incident on Tuesday.
South Africa’s police chief General Riah Phiyega said she shared “the extreme shock and outrage” over the video evidence of abuse of Macia by police officers and said his rights were “violated in the most extreme form.”
Dressed in a formal police uniform, Phiyega said at a press conference that she stands by the integrity of her police force and said she would do her utmost to bring to justice those guilty of the death of Macia.
Hours later, Moses Dlamini of the police investigation unit said eight policemen from Daveyton were charged with murder. The restraining and dragging of the man, a taxi driver who had allegedly parked in the wrong spot, was videotaped by members of a horrified crowd of onlookers who beseeched the police to stop their abuse and questioned their motives in dragging the taxi driver away with their police car, as he was struggling for his life.
He was found dead in prison a few hours later, suffering from head and upper abdomen injuries, including internal bleeding. The injuries could be from the dragging and he could also have been beaten later in police custody.
“I stood with him, I talked with him. He was a very good man,” Jafta Ndlovu, chairman of the taxi association, said after the service in Daveyton.
The scandal is the latest to undermine confidence in South Africa’s police force, which has expanded from 120,000 to nearly 200,000 over a decade.
“When dealing with 200,000 employees, it is never an easy environment,” Phiyega said on Friday. “There will always be incidents such as this.”
Phiyega said the police force would also have its own internal investigation and said the Daveyton station commander was removed “so that the investigations can proceed uninhibited.”
Despite the murder charges and the Phiyega’s promise of action, criticism of South Africa’s police mounted.
On the heels of South African President Jacob Zuma calling the incident “horrific, disturbing and unacceptable,” the ruling African National Congress party said that “where police brutality is evident, stern action should be taken.”
For many though, the apparent total disregard of the Daveyton police officials of a throng of bystanders witnessing such abuse, showed how abuse is rampant in the police force.
Mamphela Ramphele, the leader of Agang, a new opposition party, called the dragging incident “an example of the culture of impunity which has taken root in our public service.”
“Some members of the police — who are no longer a service, but a force, as they were under apartheid — are behaving with unbelievable callousness,” she said.
Beyond police brutality, the police force also must deal with mismanagement and a lack of training and resources. The magistrate at last week’s bail hearing for Oscar Pistorius severely criticized the lead police investigator for shoddy work in the investigation of the murder case against the double-amputee athlete, who is charged with killing his girlfriend.
Last year, police fired into a crowd of striking miners, killing 34 in a convulsion of violence that reminded many of the worst brutality of the apartheid era.
“Any one death is a death too many,” Phiyega said.
In Daveyton, there were already worries how Macia’s aging parents in Mozambique would be affected by the tragedy.
“He was the one who would buy them food and send it home to them,” relative Badanisi Ingwenya said. “Now because of this, there is no one to support them.”