There was a massive national outcry last year when police shot dead a wounded suspect who was lying on a pavement in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg. Four police officers were arrested and are awaiting trial for this incident, which brought police brutality under the spotlight.
South Africans correctly condemned this incident that brought back memories of a brutal apartheid police force, which had committed atrocities such as torture, vicious assaults and mass murder on a wholesale scale.
This week marked the fourth anniversary of the Marikana massacre, during which 34 miners lost their lives at the hands of unprofessional police who grossly violated their conditions of service by abusing lethal force.
Barbaric acts of state violence can never be tolerated in a country that upholds the rule of law. If this is tolerated and officers are allowed to be prosecutor, judge and executioner, tragic incidents like the brutal murder of Andries Tatane and Marikana will replicate themselves.
The nation was justified in its condemnation of the apparent execution of a suspected criminal in Krugersdorp, but it is troubling that the merciless slaying of police officers does not evoke the same outrage. Last year alone, 86 police were killed in the line of duty. So far this year, there have been more than 700 attacks on police officers, which have left more than 40 law enforcers dead. The figures have been met with deafening silence from a nation besieged by crime.
Perhaps this is part of a troubling tendency in this country to empathise more with criminals than law enforcers. The story published yesterday by The New Age of a video showing a motorist beating an Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department officer in full view of cheering adults and primary school pupils is a shining example of widespread lawlessness. In the video, excited cheering is heard from the crowd, as a man is seen dragging the officer for a couple of metres.
The officer, who tries to no avail to defend himself, is overpowered and dragged a couple more metres – again, to the joy of bystanders. Worryingly, it is alleged a few people among the cheering people joined in the assault of the hapless officer. With criminals causing untold suffering in society, it is natural that law abiding citizens would celebrate their arrest and removal from society. What happened in Ekurhuleni on Monday reveals a spine-chilling reality that some communities idolise the same criminals who terrorise them.
The unabating attacks on officers, even by the same communities they are meant to protect, sheds a sobering light on the hazardous conditions police face while discharging their constitutional mandate of ensuring South Africans are safe. Their lives are made difficult by citizens who join forces with crooks instead of being on the side of the law. Our constitution is admired globally for protecting human rights, including the right to life and dignity. These rights are for all South Africans, including police officers.
Our men and women have rights too, and it is the duty of all responsible citizens to ensure that our officers are protected in the execution of their duties.