We beat conventional wisdom with a stick
28 August 2014 16:56 (South Africa)
Opinionista Greg Marinovich

A new week, a new town, a new police brutality video

  • Greg Marinovich
Just days after we watched Mido Macia get dragged behind a police van, another video of police brutality has emerged. It is a horrific, numbingly-brutal piece of footage that shows the senseless beating of a barely conscious man by a fat policeman in Vaalwater. And yet, I felt no surprise or astonishment; just anger, disillusion and fear for South Africa.

A new week, a new town, a new police brutality video

Just days after we watched Mido Macia get dragged behind a police van, another video of police brutality has emerged. It is a horrific, numbingly-brutal piece of footage that shows the senseless beating of a barely conscious man by a fat policeman in Vaalwater. And yet, I felt no surprise or astonishment; just anger, disillusion and fear for South Africa.

The killing of Mido Macia in Daveyton was filmed by a community member on a cellphone. There is no such evidence of what happened later at the police station. If the South African policemen shown in that video felt comfortable enough to brutalize a man for a minor traffic infringement, and (just possibly) for him attempting to grab a police weapon, what punishment did they inflict on him inside their station?

We might never know exactly. But there are other videos, of other incidents. As journalists have started to look at police brutality more seriously in the wake of Macia's death, the New York Times reported on another instance of police brutality that was caught on camera.

The little town of Vaalwater in Limpopo is off the beaten track, nudging against the Waterberg. I passed it once. Can't remember much. Yet after watching this video, which was apparently shot in 2011, but posted in 2012, I will never forget that dorp's name. The Vaalwater footage is more horrifying than the Daveyton video. It is as if bored plattelanders choreographed a piece to flesh out Hannah Arendt's concept of "the banality of evil".

A single hefty policeman is shown dragging, kicking and beating a slender young man in the most bored manner possible. His demeanour is one of irritation rather than anger, as if the young victim's elasticity annoys him. The youth is clearly not a threat to the cop, yet he stomps on the unconscious man's head repeatedly. A friend of the victim tries to help the policeman get the unconscious body into the back of the Vaalwater police van, and he is klapped for his troubles.

According to the New York Times, one bystander says: "Beat him, but don't kill him." This perfectly epitomises the fear, built over generations, that South Africans have of the police: there is a tacit acceptance of the police's right to savagely beat someone in the course of their duties.

WATCH: Police Brutality in Vaalwater.

 

This and the Daveyton video show us as a nation of people without moral courage, without the backbone to confront inhumanity. We will tolerate, even encourage, violent, fascist policing, as long as we are not the direct victims ourselves.

We are not alien victims of a brutal police – we created them. They are part of our fabric of society, they live among us, they are our fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. It is part of our vigilante or Kommando mentality, of our willingness to resort to mob justice without a qualm, of the mentality that allowed torture and killings to happen at Quatro camp, of torture and execution at John Vorster Square, of looking to our churches for heavenly reward while our finest hunted down 'terrorists' on the borders and in the townships. Of feeding pap en melk to our sons after they return from a long night of housebreaking or car hijacking.

What are we going to do about it? When are we going start healing the soul that's been ruptured so many times that we can hear another news item about another senseless killing and then return to our evening meals? How are we to look at our collective mirror tomorrow morning and still see ourselves as good, sensible people? And continue living as though nothing has happened?

We are certainly reaping what we sowed over the centuries of violence. This scourge will not go away easily. DM

  • Greg Marinovich
MarinovichBW

Born in South Africa in 1962, Greg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and is co-author of The Bang Bang Club, a nonfiction book on South Africa’s transition to democracy. He has spent 25 years doing conflict, documentary and news photography around the globe. His photographs have appeared in top international publications such as Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian of London, among others.  
He is chair of the World Press Master Class nominating committee for Africa, and was a World Press Photo judge in 1994 and 2005. In 2009 he was the recipient of the Nat Nakasa award for courageous journalism. Marinovich was Editor-In-Chief of the Twenty Ten project and responsible for managing over 100 African journalists’ work in all forms of media.
Currently, Editor-at-Large for IMaverick and Daily Maverick, doing freelance photography and making a film about the former militants in Thokoza township, South Africa, and writing a non-fiction book about an infamous murderer who just happened to be married to Marinovich’s mother.

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