Just as the media furore over the killing of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius’ girlfriend begins to subside, another killing in South Africa - caught on video and disseminated online - has enraged the public.
| Mido Macia was found dead in detention
On Tuesday Mido Macia, a 27-year-old citizen of Mozambique, was handcuffed by uniformed policemen to the inside of a police van in Daveyton, a suburb of Johannesburg. The taxi driver was then dragged across the road.
Macia later died from head injuries and internal bleeding while in detention.
“They [police officers] killed him. They beat him up so badly in here,” a source who was also detained in the cell told local media.
On Thursday, South African President Jacob Zuma, who plans on running for a second term in the 2014 general elections, asked Minister of Police Nkosinathi Emmanuel Mthethwa to investigate the case.
“The visuals of the incident are horrific, disturbing and unacceptable. No human being should be treated in that manner,” the president said in a statement.
Pattern of police brutality
Macia’s is not an isolated case. The country’s Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) looks into abuse committed by police officers, including rape, murder, assault and torture. In its 2012 annual report, the IPID listed 932 deaths that occurred in police custody or as a result of police action.
Zweli Mnisi, spokesperson for the Ministry of Police admitted that this figure is "high - and it's a worrying concern for us". But, he added, the figures have decreased by 10 percent. "Are we happy with this? No, we want it to be 100 percent," he told Al Jazeera.
Amnesty International’s southern Africa director, Noel Kututwa, said in a statement that “this appalling incident involving excessive force is the latest in an increasingly disturbing pattern of brutal police conduct in South Africa".
Amnesty specifically cited an increase in deaths in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal region, which includes the city of Durban.
“Members of police special units, particularly Organised Crime, were implicated in incidents of suspicious deaths allegedly resulting from torture or extrajudicial executions,” the report read. “Victims’ families faced obstacles in accessing justice because of poor official investigations, lack of legal aid funds or intimidation.”
This is not the first time that an incident of police brutality has been captured on video and then broadcast using social media.
In April 2011, Andries Tatane, a member of a local community organisation, was shot and killed by police during a protest against lack of delivery of basic services in the Free State province.
Civilian video footage of the incident spurred public outcry but there have been few developments since. While seven police officers are in police custody for their alleged involvement, the two accused of Tatane’s murder have yet to stand trial.
Professor Peter Jordi of the Wits Centre for Legal Studies specialises in torture claims, especially against the police. Jordi, who says he has worked on cases of police abusing, shooting, and torturing people into confession, describes South Africa's police service as "incompetent, weak in policing and weak in supervision".
| South African police fire on striking miners in Marikana
Yusuf Abramjee, the head of Crime Line South Africa and a vice president of Crime Stoppers International, says flaws in the Pistorius investigation are indicative of “police inefficiency” and of “just how bad the system has become".
The chief investigating officer, Hilton Botha, was excused from the Pistorius case after it emerged he is facing seven murder charges, and that by not following procedures he had contaminated the crime scene.
“If they could bungle up such a high-profile case like Oscar Pistorius, can you imagine how ordinary South Africans are handled?” Abramjee asks. “There needs to be more training and there needs to be stricter discipline.”
“While there may be pockets of excellence within the police, I think there’s a general problem which needs to be addressed,” he added.
But Mnisi, the police spokesperson, denied claims that the police force is inefficient. He referred to statistics showing a nationwide decline in crime, saying this did not occur by sheer luck or coincidence. "Many police officers work hard to ensure that South Africans are and stay safe," he said.
Lack of leadership
At the root of the problem, says Abramjee, is a lack of leadership. “We need the will of the police leadership to improve the situation,” he says.
|Twenty-seven-year-old Mido Macia was filmed being manhandled, handcuffed and dragged by a police van [Reuters]
Professor Jordi blames a lack of “political will” for the spate of police brutality and the high crime rate in the country, calling politicians "power-hungry, weak, venal and corrupt".
Jordi says the country needs political determination to make the police force work.
The president of the country appoints South Africa’s police commissioner, hence she is not necessarily a career police officer.
The previous two appointments for the job - Bheki Cele and former Interpol head Jackie Selebi - were removed for corruption.
The current national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, has had no easy sailing.
She was in office during the Marikana tragedy, in which 34 striking miners were shot dead by police last August - and has been severely criticised for her statements regarding police officers' use of force.
"The police members had to employ force to protect themselves from the charging group," she said at the time.
For the families of the miners - many of whom were the sole breadwinners in their households - justice may be quite slow. This is a luxury they cannot afford.
"Their family members have suffered irreparable loss of support following their deaths at the hands of police officers,” a statement by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, which represents the families, said on Thursday.
As the Farlam Commission of inquiry into the killings enters its sixth month, they have announced that they intend to sue Phiyega and the minister of police, Mthethwa, for damages.
"Our clients believe that the SAPS [South African Police Services] used disproportionate force at Marikana, that this was unlawful, and that this use of force resulted in the deaths of their loved ones,” Nomzamo Zondo, the attorney for the families of the miners killed at Marikana, said in a statement on Thursday.
'One unfortunate incident'
Phiyega has acted swiftly to condemn the actions of the police officers involved in Macia’s death, and has had them arrested and charged.
But this is little consolation for his family or for the hundreds of others known to have been killed in police custody last year.
Brigadier Phuti Setati, a police spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that "this is just one unfortunate incident" and that South African Police Services is "discouraging" its members from such behaviour.
Setati dismissed allegations of an increase in police brutality in the country. He referred to a police code of conduct; a system of commanders at various levels and said that ongoing SAPS efforts included training, which happened "from time to time for members of the police service".
Abramjee, however, isn't convinced. "Talk is cheap," he says. "Now we need to see real action.”
Follow Safeeyah Kharsany on Twitter: @safeeyah