The shooting of civilian Mthokozisi Ntumba during student protests has again brought police brutality into the spotlight.
Students members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) gesture next to a South African Police Service (SAPS) vehicle while holding a golf club as they block traffic in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, on 11 March 2021. Picture: Michele Spatari/AFP
The death of Mthokozisi Ntumba has brought police and military brutality in South Africa into sharp focus once again, with experts and analysts saying the issue boils down to weak laws around the use of force by law enforcement. Ntumba was allegedly shot dead by police during a student protest in Braamfontein on Wednesday. The 35 year old was not taking part in the protest but found himself caught in the crossfire during running battles between police and students, while he was leaving his doctor’s rooms. Edited CCTV footage of the incident, which was shared on social media showed Ntumba…
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The death of Mthokozisi Ntumba has brought police and military brutality in South Africa into sharp focus once again, with experts and analysts saying the issue boils down to weak laws around the use of force by law enforcement.
Ntumba was allegedly shot dead by police during a student protest in Braamfontein on Wednesday.
The 35 year old was not taking part in the protest but found himself caught in the crossfire during running battles between police and students, while he was leaving his doctor’s rooms.
Edited CCTV footage of the incident, which was shared on social media showed Ntumba running away as a police nyala pulled up and a number of officers disembarked with their firearms drawn.
It then showed one of the officers firing what is believed to have been rubber ammunition in his direction and pursuing him. Moments later, it showed an injured Ntumba staggering back into the frame.
Ntumba worked for the City of Tshwane as a human settlements planner and had recently obtained a master’s degree. He leaves behind a wife and four children – the youngest of whom is less than a year old.
His death allegedly at the hands of law enforcement is only the latest to make national headlines, with those of the likes of Nathaniel Julies and Collins Khosa having sent shockwaves through the country last year.
Protest-related deaths at the hands of police are also a particularly visceral subject for most South Africans, with this year marking the 10th anniversary of the death of Andries Tatane, who was shot and killed by police officers during a service delivery protest in 2011; and the ninth anniversary of the Marikana massacre, which saw police gun down 34 striking mineworkers in 2012.
Despite the public outrage both these incidents spurred, reports of the use of excessive force on the part of police during protests and demonstrations still continue today.
A total of 392 deaths as a result of police action were reported to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate in the 2019-2020 financial year, 10 of which were“crowd management incidents” which saw the victims shot with service firearms.
Experts and analysts have repeatedly identified issues around the training provided to members of the police on appropriate use of force, together with major gaps in the legislative and regulatory framework around appropriate use of force.
And David Bruce, an independent researcher who specialises in policing, crime and criminal justice, yesterday said at the highest level the problem lay with the governance and management of the police.
“We do not have a system which is responsive and adaptive,” he said. “The police have to move forward in terms of its approach to use of force.”
He again highlighted there was no “coherent guidance provided to police around how these weapons should be used” – either in their training processes or in the legislative and regulatory framework around use of force.
He emphasised rubber ammunition was still lethal and said the risk of death was exacerbated at close range and “particularly when targeted at the upper body”.
Speaking specifically about Ntumba’s case, he said: “The manner in which the weapon was used – on the information we have – is that the potential for fatal injury is dramatically enhanced.”
Sean Tait, the director of African Policing Civilian Oversight, also said the issue was a foundational one.
“It goes to the law,” he said.
“Our provisions on use of force are scattered across different pieces of legislation but none of them give you a sense of when it is actually appropriate to use force. This makes training on the use of force difficult. It’s also quite difficult to exercise accountability – even in cases where there’s been a blatant misuse of force – without that clarity”.
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