An alliance of social movements, trade unions and community organisations has demanded that the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) be held accountable for the death of Collins Khosa.
The organisation has claimed that an estimated 240 000 people have been criminalised, that many have been beaten and that at least 10 people have been killed, allegedly due to the heavy handedness of police officers and soldiers during the national lockdown.
In a statement, the C19 People’s Coalition – a coalition committed to ensuring that the South African response to Covid-19 is effective, just, equitable, and meets the needs of the marginal – said the SANDF members responsible for Khosa’s death “must be held accountable as a matter of justice, to prevent a repetition of these abuses and to restore trust in the security forces”.
“Other members of the security forces, including [the SA Police Service], Metro Police and private security, who have broken the law in a similar fashion must also be brought to book. Without this, the family [is] left to bear the incalculable cost of losing a loved one in such a brutal manner,” it said in the statement.
In Alexandra, Johannesburg in March, soldiers confronted 40-year-old Khosa. He was accused of contravening lockdown regulations and died hours after the confrontation, after he was assaulted.
A SANDF board of inquiry report, which gave a summary of the events and included findings and recommendations, ultimately cleared the soldiers and concluded that there was no link between the injuries he sustained due to their actions and his death.
In court papers filed previously, Khosa’s family claimed officers and soldiers held his hands behind his back while he was choked and beaten. They also claimed he was pushed up against a wall and hit with the butt of a machine gun.
“The C-19 People’s Coalition rejects this deplorable attempt by the SANDF to shift blame and charge the late Mr Khosa for his own death. The report found that the only force used was ‘pushing and clapping (sic)’ and rejects the possibility that there was any connection between Mr Khosa’s death and the actions of the SANDF members involved,” it said in the statement.
The organisation is calling for an independent inquiry.
“[This report] shows that a closing of ranks is endorsed at the highest level of the SANDF. This report is an insult to the Khosa family and to all South Africans and deserves to be dismissed with contempt … We reject these findings and call for an urgent, independent and transparent investigation. The family has a right, in terms of international law, to an investigation that is prompt, thorough, impartial and transparent.”
The coalition has called on the government to issue public and consistent rejection of “unlawful use of force” by police officers and soldiers during the lockdown, along with an “urgent shift in approach out of fear that large-scale abuses could occur without these critical interventions”.
“We have witnessed heavy-handed enforcement across the country, and a particular harshness against some of the poorest and marginalised members of our society. Over 240 000 people have been criminalised, many beaten, and at least 10 people killed. These abuses illustrate the long-held affinity for the excessive use of force by the police as well as the long-term problems in the training, supervision and deployment of armed police forces,” the organisation said.
The coalition has established a website for the reporting of all abuses by security forces, and has encouraged people to report any incidents they have experienced.