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Human rights

South Africa: Harrismith police killing follow-up

2005-01-06, Issue 188

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The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) has welcomed the media statement released by the police watchdog body, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), announcing that investigations into the fatal shooting of Harrismith student Tebogo Mkhonza on 30 August 2004 have been completed and that three police officers should be prosecuted for his murder, alternatively culpable homicide and attempted murder. The killing followed public protests in the town against lack of service delivery.

20 December, 2004

Press statement: For immediate release

FXI welcomes ICD statement and recommendations on police killing of Tebogo

The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) has today welcomed the media
statement released by the police watchdog body, the Independent Complaints
Directorate (ICD), announcing that investigations into the fatal shooting of
Harrismith student Tebogo Mkhonza on 30 August 2004 have been completed and
that three police officers should be prosecuted for his murder,
alternatively culpable homicide and attempted murder.

Additionally, the ICD has recommended that a number of other police officers
be prosecuted for malicious damage to property and defeating the ends of
justice, and that the South African Police Services (SAPS) should take
disciplinary action against the implicated members. Furthermore, FXI views
as particularly important the statement by ICD Executive Director Advocate
Karen McKenzie, that SAPS Standing Order (G) 212 specifically outlaws the
use of birdshot and buckshot in crowd management and crowd control, and

"The SAPS should take urgent steps to ensure that police officers who are
tasked with crowd management do not have access to birdshot and buckshot."

Local media reports at the time of the Harrismith shooting indicated that
the demonstrators from Intabazwe Township posed no harm to either people or
property and it is evident from the video footage broadcast in local
television networks that police simply fired into the fleeing crowd. This
unwarranted use of lethal force not only violated the standing order
mentioned above, but it was also a violation of the Regulation of Gatherings
Act (No 205 of 1993) which requires that during the dispersal of an
"unauthorised" or violent gathering:

"The degree of force which may be so used shall not be greater than is
necessary for dispersing the persons gathered and shall be proportionate to
the circumstances of the case and the object to be attained."

That certainly did not happen in the Harrismith demonstration, as the random
use of lethal force resulting in the death of Mkhonza and injuries to
several other demonstrators was clearly disproportionate to whatever threat
that the gathering could have posed.

However, while welcoming the ICD statement, FXI notes with concern that the
directorate has so far taken no action in regards to the unlawful use of
force, as well as the allegations of police torture against members of the
Landless People's Movement (LPM) on Election Day, 14 April 2004. On this
occasion, more than 60 members of the LPM were forcefully arrested and later
charged with holding a political gathering. Four of the members alleged that
while being detained overnight at the Protea Police station, officers from
the Crime Intelligence Services tortured them.

So far, and six months after complaints were made to the ICD and the
Minister of Safety and Security, no action or progress has been realised.
While appreciating the difference in gravity around the two cases, we are
loath to conclude that the reasonably swift action taken in relation to the
Harrismith matter as opposed to that of the LPM members owes largely to the
political orientation of the latter.

Since the beginning of 2004, FXI has noted a disconcerting rise in the
number of cases pertaining to the state's unlawful use of force against
peaceful and unarmed demonstrators. It is as a result of this trend that FXI
and a group of civil society organisations have come together to discuss,
share ideas and formulate a collective response on how to engage the
Ministry of Safety and Security and the ICD among others in the process. The
group will also be examining the role that oversight bodies such as the
South Africa Human Rights Commission should play in this regard.


For more information please contact Simon Kimani Ndungu (083 733 2675)

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