The SAPS is likely to face a new case of wrongful death after an innocent bystander was allegedly killed in a police shootout at an informal settlement in Primrose, Germiston. At the time of the gunfire police were responding to an incident of mob justice – another social terror threatening the foundation of SA’s fragile democracy. As of Sunday, Service Nkadimeng is but another number in the frightening SAPS statistics. By MANDY DE WAAL.
It was mid-morning on Sunday 18 November 2012 when 33-year-old Service Nkadimeng decided to go and buy some food, and stepped out to the meat and grill shop, skirting the edges of Makause informal settlement in Primrose, Germiston. A couple of minutes after arriving at the container-and-meat store, Nkadimeng lay dead near Main Reef Road. Witnesses from Makause said that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time – an innocent bystander allegedly shot dead during police action.
Eyewitnesses told Daily Maverick that Primrose police had been called to stop an incident of vigilante justice, when shots rang out. “There was a group of about 100 people with a suspect in their hands. The man was about 20 years, and was suspected of breaking into shacks and stealing,” said a community member who didn’t want to be named.
“A member of the community saw this man breaking into a shack and knew where this man lived. The people went to go and get him on Sunday morning. I saw the mob coming with this man toward the shebeen, and then they started beating him with sticks and jumping on him,” the young man said, sitting metres away from where Nkadimeng was shot and died.
As the vigilante attack was in progress, multiple SAPS vehicles and an unmarked bakkie roared up and stopped in the street. “When the police arrived, people were running. They dispersed into all corners and I heard this shooting. Kwa! Kwa! Kwaaaaa!” the man said.
Nkadimeng was shot dead outside the meat shop and a tavern on Main Road. The tavern had CCTV cameras in operation, and the recordings showed a member of the SAPS running up and down in front of the tavern, firing at the crowd. It also showed the police attacking a man who tried to film the events on his cellphone.
“After the shooting I saw Service. He was lying in the ground. He was just coming to buy meat at the shop next to the shebeen. And then he was dead,” the eyewitness told Daily Maverick.
The eyewitness said Nkadimeng came from Polokwane in Limpopo to Germiston in the hope of making money, and that he had lived in the settlement for about 10 years. Daily Maverick was told that Nkadimeng was a friendly, shy and quiet man who sold bags and cellphone covers in Germiston to make a living.
“The police are bullies; they are like the Apartheid police,” the eyewitness said. “The crowd only picked up stones once that man was dead. The police are not here to serve the community. They attack the tavern owners and demand money from them to keep the taverns safe. The police don’t care about us. All they want is bribes or else they arrest the tavern owners.”
Mandla Zulu was standing outside the shebeen on Main Reef Road when the violence erupted. “I saw the people coming with this man, and then I saw the police rushing in. I had a phone and so I took a video of what was going on,” said Zulu. A police officer spotted Zulu, and told a couple of her colleagues.
“This female cop saw me and told the other cops, then six cops they came and started to beat me. They were hitting me in my face with their open hands. They were slapping me with their open hands again and again. They pushed me into the van and said I must delete the video. They drove me to the police station and then around Makause.”
Zulu said that when the van came to a stop, the police were unsure of what to do with their captive, and eventually drove back to the informal settlement where he was released.
As Daily Maverick talked to Makause members outside the shebeen and adjacent meat store where Nkadimeng died, people who knew the man from Limpopo start to arrive. A man who was friendly with Nkadimeng’s immediate family and who lived near the dead man asked to be interviewed.
“Service was coming to buy meat. He was a kind person. He wouldn’t fight and he would just keep quiet,” said this man, who asked not to be named because he feared the police. “Service wasn’t married and didn’t have children. He had parents and he was sending money to them and looking after them. Are the police going to do an investigation to see who shot him?” the man asked Daily Maverick.
“The police said they would help the family to see that this man was buried. But they know this man’s family is poor so they hope he will be buried quickly,” he said.
Nkadimeng was shot on Sunday 18 November, and by Tuesday his body was already being transported to a private mortuary in Limpopo.
Community members told Daily Maverick that they had learned that the police had paid for the body to be transferred. “Service will be buried this coming Saturday, but what about a post mortem? The body has gone from the government mortuary to a private mortuary. Who will do the post mortem now because the family has no money?” the family friend asked.
Daily Maverick spoke to Nkadimeng’s family in Pietersburg in Limpopo with the help of an interpreter. A spokesperson for the family said they checked the body and found no signs of post mortem, only some stitches where the bullet had gone through the body. The spokesperson for the family said they had been put in touch with a member of the SAPS forensics unit, and were told that they would only get a forensic report after three months.
SAPS forensic laboratories are supposed to do analysis within 28 days, but in 2011 only 77% of entries to the labs were analysed within 28 days. A post mortem should have been conducted on Nkadimeng’s body by the Department of Health. The body is about to be buried, and the family is confused and uncertain of their rights or how to get legal support to ensure justice prevails.
When phoned about the incident, Lt-Col Thembi Nkhwashu, station commander of the Primrose police station in Germiston, refused to speak to Daily Maverick: “I am not the spokesperson. Speak to the provincial police office. I have submitted a report.”
Provincial SAPS spokesperson, Lt-Col Katlego Mogale, offered the following statement by way of a response to questions about the death of Nkadimeng and the beating of Zulu: “It is alleged that police were called to a scene where the information was that community members were assaulting a man accused of terrorising them. On arrival they found a 20 years old young man lying [sic] on the ground with some injuries. Police called the paramedics who took the victim to a nearby hospital. When police tried to contain the situation, they were pelted with stones and one vehicle was damaged. Further information revealed that two more men had been assaulted and taken to hospital,” the statement reads.
“When police were patrolling trying to quell the violence they arrived at a scene where a person had been killed. The allegations that there was a person who was shot by police will be investigated. Investigations are continuing,” the SAPS response states.
When the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) presented its 2011/2012 annual report to Parliament recently, the SAPS watchdog revealed it had received 4,923 complaints about the SAPS. A total of 720 of these complaints were deaths, while 88 were domestic violence cases. Allegations of criminal offences accounted for 2,320 of the complaints, while there were 1,795 complaints of police misconduct. Going by these figures, police are killing two people or more a day in the course of dispatching their duties.
These statistics do not include the cases of rape, assault, attempted murder and torture that the IPID is currently investigating. Media statements on the IPID’s website paint a picture of a predatory force, alienating itself from the very communities it is supposed to serve.
On 13 November, the IPID arrested a SAPS captain in Robertson, Western Cape for rape; on 6 November a reserve constable was arrested for murder and attempted murder in Khuma in the North West; on 5 November a constable was arrested for murder and other offences in Mondeor in Johannesburg; on 23 October a warrant officer from Newlands East, Kwazulu-Natal was arrested for murder; and on 16 October the IPID advised that a 30-year-old Randburg constable was due to appear in court for multiple rapes and other crimes. The list continues. Month, after month.
Because of this, the SAPS budget for contingent liabilities is skyrocketing. The figure quadrupled from R5.3 billion in 2006 to R20.5 billion for the 2011/2012 financial year. It now accounts for more than a third of the SAPS’ total annual budget. And at some future date, at least some of this budget may be used to compensate Nkadimeng’s relatives, who have stated that they now want to sue the government for wrongful death, if they manage to get legal support.
The shadow minister of police for the DA, Dianne Kohler Barnard, said the SAPS is witnessing the reintroduction of militaristic Apartheid-era ranks and has become a force that views civilians as the enemy. “It is bad enough when our SAPS members obey orders and shoot to kill, as they did at Marikana, but when they shoot to kill and hit an innocent person, it is beyond unacceptable,” said Kohler Barnard.
She believes that citizens no longer trust the SAPS and that members of the force are today seen as “men and women to be feared”. Kohler Barnard said the SAPS “is no longer a ‘Service’ but a ‘force’ in which there are members who kill, rape, hijack, beat and bribe civilians, and who seldom, if ever, see the inside of a court.”
“Our SAPS has a crisis of management, in that civilians are hired over and over and over again to be the National Police Commissioner, and who know nothing about the job, and it has a crisis of management in that the Minister is an Empty Suit who contributes nothing in the way of policy or leadership,” Kohler Barnard added.
Daily Maverick contacted the police to offer a right of reply, but at the time of publishing there was no word from the SAPS acting head of communications and liaison services, Brigadier Phuti Setati.
But let’s get back to Makause and the question that looms large. Why did a group of 100 or so people from the informal settlement in Germiston decide to take the law into their own hands? Why didn’t they deliver the suspect to the police station which is situated a couple of blocks away from Makause?
Some months back, Daily Maverick spoke to clinical psychologist Nomfundo Mogapi of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), to try and understand what causes vigilantism.
“There is an increasing sense from society that the only language our government and society understands is violence,” said Mogapi. “When there is violence, there is a huge reaction from society whether it (is) the media or government at large. When people try peaceful ways of raising their issues, there is usually a very limited response.
“The title we used for the research we did (on vigilantism) was ‘The Smoke That Calls’. We used this because during our research people said to us: ‘We feel that violence is the only language that this government understands. They will only come when they see the smoke’,” Mogapi said, referring to CSVR research ‘The smoke that calls: Insurgent citizenship, collective violence and the struggle for a place in the new South Africa’. The study is a collection of case studies of collective violence.
The SAPS crime statistics show that of the 15,609 murders recorded in SA from April 2011 to March 2012, 5% of the killings (or 780) were ascribed to vigilantism.
In Makause people say they’re taking the law into their own hands because they’ve lost faith in the police and the justice system. “We are so tired because every day there is break-ins. When we find the suspects, we take him to the police, he goes to court but the court releases him because of lack of evidence. The police are not doing their job. There is always a lack of evidence so the criminals they just come back and steal again, and again,” one resident told Daily Maverick. “The community are getting angry. They say they are fed up with criminals. They want to take the law into their own hands,” another said.
The rule of law is going through an extra-ordinary atrophy in Makause, as it is in many other parts of South Africa. It is being murdered by criminals who no longer fear the SAPS − they very same SAPS that communities sometimes fear even more. Often, with good reason. Very, very good reason. DM
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Photo: Mandla Zulu looks at the photos he took of police action in Makause where an innocent bystander was allegedly shot by the SAPS. Zulu was beaten by police and made to delete most of his recordings of SAPS action in the informal settlement in Germiston. Photo by Mandy de Waal.