The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is concerned with the rising cases of law enforcement officers overstepping the mark on the general population.
This as global public discourse around police brutality erupted, with protests opposing excessive force by police in the United States and Europe.
Although the two were not comparable, SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissen said intervention into the attitudes and behaviour of law enforcement on civilians was important.
Working with various enforcement bodies, the institution had been assisting with creating a human rights culture with authorities and with individual cases of human rights violations.
“Obviously, we have been working with [the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, Ipid] from the beginning of the lockdown when the police minister said that a number of cases had been reported to us and Ipid, and we should give [the agency] the opportunity to investigate these cases,” said Nissen.
“However, it isn’t just certain police officers that have been accused of violating people’s rights but also metro police officers, as in the recent case where a metro police officer was alleged to have pulled a woman out of a car and beat her up.”
Nissen said a judgment in May at the High Court in Johannesburg ordering soldiers and metro police officers accused in the murder of Alexandra resident Collins Khosa to be suspended, was important in sparking change. This was because it compelled agencies to create a code of conduct for the officers during lockdown operations.
“When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the deployment of the military and other forces, he made it clear that the people are not the enemy – the virus is,” said Nissen. “And we need to make sure that we are all in the same space and level, fighting the virus together and not to adopt the skop en donner approach.”
Prof John Mubangizi, who is the dean of law at the University of Free State, said there were parallels that could be drawn between South Africa and other countries.
“It is historical and it is not only a problem in South Africa, but what is happening in America is similar to what has been happening here. Although in South Africa, it is largely because of the legacy of apartheid and our colonial past,” said Mubangizi.
The South African Police (SAPS) were preceded by the police forces of the Cape Colony, the Natal Colony, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal in law enforcement in South Africa.
The SAPS was formed with Proclamation 18 in April 1913 with the amalgamation of the police forces of the two old colonies and the two former republics after the founding of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
“When the police force was formed, it initially had many of the features you would associate with the military and some of those habits still remain today,” he said.
Agencies such as Ipid needed to be strengthened beyond the lockdown era, added Mubangizi.