Tag Archives: Ruth Hopkins

The Irreconcilable Narratives of America’s South

By Peter Pettus - Library of Congress, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5697261

Participants, some carrying American flags, marching in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 Photo by Peter Pettus, U.S. Library of Congress, Public Domain

By Ruth HopkinsWits Justice Project 
May 7, 2016

Montgomery was a ghost town on April 25. The streets were deserted and the banks and shops closed. Alabama celebrates Confederate Memorial Day every third Monday of April, a day when the soldiers who died fighting for the confederate states in the civil war are honoured.

Quick history recap: In 1861, the civil war started when qualleven southern states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. This break was caused by the disagreement between free and slave states over the authority of the federal government to prohibit slavery. Montgomery became the capitol of the confederacy and Jefferson Davis the president of the Confederacy.

On Montgomery’s Capitol Hill there is a confederate monument erected in 1898 to commemorate the 122,000 Alabamians who fought for the confederacy during the civil war.

© Ruth Hopkins 2016

© Ruth Hopkins 2016

“We have honoured our ancestors,” a woman holding a confederate flag tells me when I approach the monument. Women in hoop skirts and men in civil war uniforms wander around the grounds. An old canon is parked behind an SUV. “We call out the names of soldiers – our great great great grandfathers – who died during the war.” A guy wearing a bandana with the confederate flag and a leather jacket with the same symbol nods vigorously. “We don’t refer to the civil war, but rather call it the war of Northern aggression, or the war of states. We lost the right to decide on our own matters. To this day, the federal government interferes too much in our lives.” When I ask them what kind of matters she says: “gay marriage”.  “People say we celebrate slavery, but that’s not true,” the guy with the bandana adds.

Down on the street, protesters disagree. A statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the confederacy and a slaveholder, stands in front of the Capitol – the same place where on March 25 1965 exhausted civil rights protesters, led by Martin Luther King, reached their end point. A chaotic scene is playing out in front of the building. The police are holding back members of the Black Lives Matter Movement and Black Panthers who, so a television journalist tells me, brought a gun to the protest. They argue that the confederacy was a racist organisation that aimed to preserve slavery, well into the twentieth century, when it became the signature symbol for the Klu Klux Klan and in this century, when picturesof racist killer Dylann Roof surfaced, showing him brandishing a confederate flag in one hand, a gun in the other. A police officer throws the bandana guy a bulletproof vest, which he doesn’t put on.

When Roof shot nine African American church goers in Charleston, June 2015, it sparked a movement to do away with confederate memorabilia in various states.  Alabama’s governor Robert Bentley decided to take down four confederate flags from the confederate monument. Despite many states following suit, a recent report  by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) still documented “1503 Confederate place names and other symbols in public spaces, both in the South and across the nation.’

Montgomery, the cradle of both the confederacy and the civil rights movement, is a patchwork of remembrance and conflicting narratives. Advocates of slavery and supporters of white supremacy are honoured alongside the struggle icons, like martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and many others, who fought against the deleterious effects of racial terror. The office of the Equal Justice Initiative in downtown Montgomery is built in a former warehouse for slaves. This fact is recorded in a marker set up outside the building. It is one of three markers that EJI had to fight to get put up. 59 similar markers around town commemorate the confederacy, but the Alabama historical association deemed EJI’s markers ‘too controversial’. The issue had to be taken up with the mayor before they could be erected. One of them, by the riverside, relates the history of the domestic slave trade and reminds the reader of a crucial fact: “Between 1808 and 1860, the enslaved population of Alabama grew from less than 40,000 to more than 435,000. Alabama had one of the largest slave populations in America at the start of the Civil War.”

Dylann Roof mugshot, by Charleston County Sheriff's Office

Dylann Roof mugshot, by Charleston County Sheriff’s Office

Down by the river, the City of Montgomery has put up panels depicting the history of the town and slavery is not mentioned once, while Montgomery’s role as the capitol of the confederacy takes up an entire panel of its own, proudly recounting that in Montgomery: “Confederate leaders sent the telegram ordering Southern troops to reduce Fort Sumter.”

Those two facts; Alabama’s huge slave population and Montgomery’s central role in the confederacy are intimately connected, says Bryan Stevenson, the director of EJI: “The civil war could have been stopped and tens of thousands of lives could have been saved if the federal government had been prepared to say, you can have slavery.”

Openly honouring slavery and slaveholders would not sit well with many people, so the narrative around the civil war changed, says Stevenson. People who initially were called insurgents and traitors were reframed as honourable. “If there were no black people in the state of Alabama, we wouldn’t have this kind of romantic view of the confederacy. They use this fight that started during the civil war, as a way to continue the fight against reconstruction, to fight against land, wealth and equality for black people, to fight against voting rights, to fight against integration, to fight against racial equality and that fight needs a narrative of the honouring the people who were engaged in resistance.” The SPLC points out in their report, that there were two periods in the South were the dedication to Confederate symbols spiked, during the first two decades of the twentieth century, when the Jim Crow laws were introduced and in the sixties, during the civil rights movement.

While the crowd on the hill looks harmless and a little bit hideous in their historical outfits, it is anything but a quirky habit of amateur historians, warns Stevenson. “It would be the same if you said, you know we should create a new narrative about the Second World War, the Nazis weren’t bad, they weren’t evil, they were dedicated, they were committed to Germany and we should celebrate them and honour them. Hitler was just passionate, he was committed to Germany and we should respect him.”

In Montgomery the narrative of a proud confederacy is visceral and dominant and is echoed in its street names, buildings, signs and statues. But EJI, instead of protesting the display of Southern pride and honour, has started an elaborate and ambitious remembrance project that not only includes the collection of soil from sites of lynchings to remember the victims. It also encompasses a museum that is currently being constructed at the back of EJI’s building, dedicated to the evolution of slavery into mass incarceration, as well as a memorial monument that is going to be built to remember victims of lynchings.  EJI has bought the land and enlisted the help of an architectural firm. During the annual benefit dinner in New York, Stevenson presented a video of the project. Columns representing people who died from lynchings, slowly become suspended from above, evoking the ‘strange fruit’ hanging from trees. The columns will be filled with soil from the towns and cities where the lynchings took place and. These towns will be offered the opportunity to take the column and display it as their own remembrance, thus ensuring the narrative of pain and suffering is not forgotten.

Copyright Ruth Hopkins 2016

Ruth Hopkins is spending two and a half months in the United States with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery and the Marshall Project in New York, investigating the similarities between issues facing both the American and South African criminal justice systems.  This story was originally published by the Wits Justice Project, and is republished here with permission.

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RuthHopkins-FAORuth Hopkins is a senior journalist with the Wits Justice Project in Johannesburg, South Africa. She wrote a book on trafficking in women in/to Europe, which was published in 2005 (Ik laat je nooit meer gaan, I will never let you go again), based on five years of research in Albania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and the Netherlands.

In addition to her journalistic work, Ruth set up and taught a human rights course at a journalism college in the Netherlands. Ruth was named print Legal Journalist of the Year by Webber Wentzel 2011 – 2014.

Read more of Ruth Hopkin’s work on F&O here.

 

 

 

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Filth, disease, sex and violence for South African female inmates

By Ruth Hopkins
March, 2016

© Palesa 2016

© Palesa 2016

International Women’s Day on March 8 turns the spotlight on the fate of women, in particular their achievements and the slow pace of progress. An often overlooked group are women prisoners. Their needs, views and struggles barely figure in feminist discourse, let alone in the mainstream debate in society.

Pollsmoor Prison in the Western Cape of South Africa is known for its extreme overcrowding – 300% above its capacity – which feeds into gang violence and poor sanitary conditions. Life-threatening diseases, such as tuberculosis, flourish in the poorly ventilated and overcrowded cells.

About 740 of the 8 465 inmates are women. Nationally, 3 029 women – or about 2.3% of the entire inmate population – are imprisoned, according to the 2015 annual report of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services.

Female wardens show visitors to the meeting room at the unsentenced section and ask them to leave their possessions behind a desk.

Palesa*, a dreadlocked woman in her mid-30s with big, intense eyes, waits for me on the other side of the glass partition. We both lean in to hear each other speak, through a faulty intercom.

“See this?” she asks, raising her index finger to a scar above her eyebrows. “I was put in a cell with an inmate who was known to be violent. She bit me and here, on my elbow.”

Palesa asked repeatedly for an HIV test following the assault, but she says she was never given one and was also not informed about her attacker’s HIV status.

Palesa has waited nearly three years for her trial to be completed. She was arrested in 2013 after fatally stabbing her boyfriend, who she says was trying to strangle her. Palesa says his death released her from an abusive relationship that saw her quit her job because she was locked inside her flat most days.

After her arrival at Pollsmoor, Palesa started writing a blog and drawing cartoons about prison life, but has been unable to publish them – until now.

“Hi all, this blog started as a way for me to give you out there a run-down of prison life. There are many injustices taking place at the department of correctional services and your hard-earned tax money is paying for them. An important role this blog can serve … is making the prison transparent to the public.”

© Palesa 2016

© Palesa 2016

The title of another blog entry reads: “Pollsmoor female unsentenced section is controlled by mafia-style ‘kitchen ladies’?”. It goes on to say: “Two things can buy you anything in this prison, and they control both: food and tobacco.”

The kitchen ladies, nicknamed “adjutants”, are female inmates tasked with running the prison kitchen. “They are correctional officers without keys who use the food in the kitchen to ‘buy’ whatever they want. The prison is their playground; they do as they please,” Palesa alleges.

Another way to survive, according to Palesa, is to find a “prison mother”. “In Pollsmoor you need a ‘tronk ma’, a female warder who ‘adopts’ you in exchange for deposits into their Shoprite accounts. These prison mothers then bring you food, medication and anything you need. But I refuse. These [correctional services] officials get a salary; why should I pay them?”

The tronk mas, Palesa says, don’t just demand money for favours: sometimes it becomes sexual when wardens initiate slanga, prison slang for a same-sex relationship.

© Palesa 2016

© Palesa 2016

Simone*, who was incarcerated in Pollsmoor in 2007 and 2008, chose to play slangawith a fellow inmate to survive. “It was beneficial because she gave me what I wanted.”

Simone says she struck up a relationship with the woman mainly as protection against the rampant violence in the women’s section. “There were many fights, mostly caused by jealousy over food, toiletries, tobacco. I got hit on the soles of my feet by wardens and I was bitten by another inmate.”

Melanie*, another former inmate who was imprisoned in 2010, recalls a practice called “toppers”: wardens would punish inmates by hitting the tops of their fingers with a broomstick.

Most of the female inmates interviewed in Hard Times, a 2012 research report on women prisoners in Pollsmoor produced by the University of Cape Town’s gender, health and justice unit, had experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse growing up.

Basing their findings on interviews with 53 inmates, the authors note that “the correctional system becomes an extension of the abusive domestic context, where the features of domestic violence are recreated through prison controls and other behaviours … replicating a de facto domestic violence relationship”.

Dirty cells and substandard sanitation, especially in the awaiting-trial section, also traumatise the women. “Toilets and showers were incredibly dirty, always blocked,” Melanie remembers.

‘Filthy and cramped’
Grace Nienaber is a slender, middle-aged woman dressed in the prison’s bright yellow remand uniform. She was convicted for fraud after awaiting trial for two and a half years, and was released several weeks ago after receiving a suspended sentence. “It’s filthy here,” she says. “And cramped. They have squeezed about 70 women into a cell that is meant for 30. People sleep on the floor, toilets don’t flush and forget about warm water.”

Poor sanitation and overcrowding has provided the perfect hotbed for the spread of communicable diseases in Pollsmoor, especially tuberculosis.

The Constitutional Court condemned conditions at the prison in 2012 when it ruled in favour of former inmate Dudley Lee, who had sued the government after becoming infected with tuberculosis in jail. The highest court in the land gave the correctional services department a slap on the wrist for not complying with a raft of domestic and international legislation, including standing orders on cell space, ventilation and access to medication.

Three years after that ruling, Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron wrote a scathing report on the remand sections – male and female – following a visit in April last year. “Ninety-four women were crowded into a poorly aerated room. The mattresses were stinking. There was no working toilet, a clogged sink drain and only cold water … Sheets and blankets were infested with lice … [and] the cell was infested with cockroaches.”

He also signalled there was little to no access to medical staff and poorly ventilated and heavily overcrowded cells – an indication the department has not done much to uphold the Dudley Lee ruling.

Lawyers for Human Rights and Sonke Gender Justice are suing the department for what they say are subhuman conditions in the male remand section.

The high court in Cape Town recently opened the way for former Pollsmoor inmate Nassiera James to sue the department after she contracted tuberculosis in 2009. Legal damages claims usually lapse after three years, but the court ruled that James could not have reasonably known she had a claim because most inmates are unaware of their rights. Attorney Jonathan Cohen, who represented (the since deceased) Lee, is also James’s lawyer.

James, who was released from prison in December 2009, lives in a house with a small fenced-off yard on a crescent in Mitchells Plain. She meets me in her uniform and head scarf, her work outfit.

“The officials at Pollsmoor do not try to find out who has TB and who doesn’t. While I was inside, a woman died of TB. Shortly thereafter, I started feeling really ill and I was coughing blood. The prison hospital kept saying that my sputum tests all came back with a negative result.”

After an outside hospital finally diagnosed her with the pulmonary illness, she returned to Pollsmoor and was put back in a communal cell despite still being potentially infectious to fellow inmates.

“This means they do this to other inmates; keep them in a communal cell while they await their test results. They throw people together like a bunch of dogs.”

When James hears a child call out her name, she goes to the crossroads outside her house. A six-year-old boy runs towards her. “This one was born in Pollsmoor,” she says as she strokes his head. “My family took him home after seven days. Pregnant women are taken care of,” she adds.

Mothers and babies
Lerato*, an official working in the women’s section, agrees. “Several years ago, things improved when the department started a separate mother and baby unit and a crèche for women whose babies are born in prison. The children are allowed to stay for two years.”

Children who were born before their mothers were incarcerated often end up in a precarious situation. “One mother had a three-month-old baby at home and she complained that there wasn’t anyone taking care of it,” says Lerato. “I asked the social worker to look into it, but she said there was nothing she could do.”

The women interviewed for the Hard Times report describe being separated from their children as the most difficult aspect of prison life.

“It’s hard being without my kids … that’s why I would like to appeal, even if it’s only … for a less[er] sentence,” an inmate called Tokkie told the researchers through her tears.

Correctional services policy is brief on the issue of women inmates and their children. The White Paper on Corrections in South Africa only stipulates that women should be incarcerated close to their homes.

The shortage of medical staff in the prison also leads to dangerous situations, says Lerato. “We have one psychologist, one doctor and one dentist for the entire prison. Some HIV-positive women are not getting their [antiretrovirals] and inmates who I suspect have TB are not being seen to.”

Melissa*, a mother of two, says she was framed by a former boyfriend who was angry about the fact that she was leaving him. “I was at the airport with my son when custom officials called me. They found 10 kilo-grams of marijuana in my suitcase,” she recalls. Melissa was arrested and after a few days in police custody, she was brought to the awaiting-trial section of the women’s jail.

“It was sad: there were so many women there who couldn’t afford R200 bail. Some of them had only stolen bread. I was lucky; my parents paid for an expensive attorney and advocate, who found out my ex-boyfriend had phoned the airport and had provided customs officials with a detailed description of me. I was released immediately.”

Melissa also noticed the poor medical attention in the prison. “The smell in the place was unbelievable. There was a woman in there who was pregnant and emitting a horrible smell, of rotting flesh. They washed her, but the smell didn’t

go. We asked the wardens to call a doctor, because we suspected her baby had died, but no one came.

I don’t know what happened to that poor woman; I was afraid she might die.”

Melissa stayed in Pollsmoor for only a few days, but she says it affected her deeply. “It was the most traumatic experience of my life. I don’t know what I would have done if my parents hadn’t paid for the lawyers. I can’t bear to think of what it is like to be imprisoned there for longer.”

Nienaber does know what that is like. Shortly after she was brought to Pollsmoor, she found out she had skin cancer. “I did not receive any treatment here. At one point, I had open wounds on my body and I had to be admitted to Groote Schuur Hospital with septic shock. I nearly died.”

The department of correctional services declined to comment on the women’s allegations, despite repeated requests to do so.

* The women asked not to be named for fear of reprisals or because they feared they would lose their jobs.

Copyright Ruth Hopkins 2016

Ruth Hopkins works as an investigative journalist for the Wits Justice Project, where this article first appeared.

You might also be interested in:

South African prison inmate ‘tortured to death’. By Ruth Hopkins

Several inmates incarcerated in South Africa’s Mangaung prison have died under suspicious circumstances. Documents that were recently provided to the WJP and eyewitness accounts contain shocking allegations that inmates were tortured before they died, while the prison registered their deaths as either “natural” or “suicide”. More worryingly, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) is aware that G4S’ recordkeeping of deaths in custody is not up to standard and that deaths through torture may go undetected. Despite that knowledge, it has not held G4S accountable.

Oscar Pistorius and South Africa’s VIP Justice. By Ruth Hopkins

399px-Oscar_Pistorius_2_Daegu_2011Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial in South Africa, dubbed the trial of the century, has hogged the limelight since he was arrested and charged for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. The “OP” case however, is hardly representative of South Africa’s criminal justice system — but rather exposes the ugly face of class justice. The trial has revealed a level of quality of the legal process that the criminal justice system is capable of producing, but ordinary South African citizens are by no means guaranteed a fair trial.

Private prison operator accused of using drugs and electric shocks. By Ruth Hopkins

 A South African prison, run by the beleaguered multinational private security company G4S, allegedly forcibly injected inmates with antipsychotic medication and used electroshocks to subdue and control them. Prisoners, warders and health care workers said that involuntary medication was regularly practised at the Mangaung Correctional Centre near Bloemfontein. The company, G4S, denies any acts of assault or torture. The allegations are according to at least 35 sources – prisoners as well as security guards, prison and health officials – and based on medical records seen by reliable sources, legal documents and video footage shot inside the prison.

What has gone so horribly wrong with South Africa’s police? By Ruth Hopkins

F&O Hopkins

© Ruth Hopkins 2013

Steven Mothao was walking back home from a piece job on August 10, 2010, through Fordsburg in Joburg. Out of nowhere, three police officers appeared and pushed him against a wall. While onlookers gawked, the police officers slammed Mothao into a police van. He was detained in a police cell for 22 hours. For the first 14, he wasn’t offered a glass of water. Then Mothao was out on the street again. The police officers never identified themselves, they did not have an arrest warrant, and they did not inform Mothao of the reasons for his arrest. He sued the Minister of Police for damages and was awarded R150 000 in March.

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RuthHopkins-FAOFacts and Opinions contributor Ruth Hopkins is a senior journalist with the Wits Justice Project in Johannesburg, South Africa. She wrote a book on trafficking in women in/to Europe, which was published in 2005 (Ik laat je nooit meer gaan, I will never let you go again), based on five years of research in Albania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and the Netherlands.

In addition to her journalistic work, Ruth set up and taught a human rights course at a journalism college in the Netherlands. Ruth was named print Legal Journalist of the Year by Webber Wentzel 2011 – 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Please respect our copyright. Details here.

~~~

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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South African prison inmate ‘tortured to death’

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Several inmates incarcerated in Mangaung prison have died under suspicious circumstances.

By Ruth Hopkins, Wits Justice Project 
September, 2015 

On a cold winter day in 2005, inmate Isaac Nelani asked wardens at South Africa’s Mangaung prison, run by British security firm G4S, for an extra blanket to keep him warm. The prison walls emitted a chill that crept into his joints and bones. Nelani, a 47-year old inmate at Mangaung prison, was HIV-positive, which made him more susceptible to the cold.

Other than his insistence on an extra blanket that day, not much else is known about Nelani. Inmates who spoke to the Wits Justice Project (WJP), say he was a gentle guy, others claim he was emotionally unstable. Why he had been placed in a cell in Mangaung’s notorious “Broadway” isolation section remains unknown. Nelani himself is no longer around to connect the dots, because he died under suspicious circumstances on that cold day, May 18 2005. G4S officials registered the death as suicide in their internal records, which the WJP has in its possession. 

Several inmates incarcerated in Mangaung prison have died under suspicious circumstances. Documents that were recently provided to the WJP and eyewitness accounts contain shocking allegations that inmates were tortured before they died, while the prison registered their deaths as either “natural” or “suicide”. More worryingly, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) is aware that G4S’ recordkeeping of deaths in custody is not up to standard and that deaths through torture may go undetected. Despite that knowledge, it has not held G4S accountable. DCS has instituted a task team to look into unnatural deaths in the prison, but the investigations have yet to be finalised. 

Recently, Nelani’s death was part of a DCS investigation into allegations of abuse at the Bloemfontein prison. The investigation was initiated two years ago, after the WJP revealed the results of a year-long probe into the prison. It uncovered a practice, since the inception of the prison in 2000, of alleged routine assaults, electroshocking, alleged forced injections with anti-psychotic drugs and lengthy isolation of inmates in the prison. The allegations were based on interviews with approximately 70 inmates and dozens of wardens, governmental reports and audio and video footage of the forced injections and the electroshocking. It revealed a hellhole of a prison.

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An investigation was initiated in 2013, after the WJP revealed the results of a year-long probe into the prison. It uncovered practices since 2000 of alleged routine assaults, electroshocking, alleged forced injections with anti-psychotic drugs and lengthy isolation of inmates in the prison. The photos with this story were captured in 2012 from a video obtained by the Wits Justice Project,

Then minister of correctional services, Sbu Ndebele, promised to “leave no stone unturned”. The 30 days he allocated for the report to be finalised have long expired; nearly two years after the expose, DCS has still not finalised or published the results of its investigation.

The DCS took over Mangaung prison in October 2013, when G4S lost control of the prison, amid a spate of stabbings and hostage-takings, which followed on the heels of a protracted strike and subsequent dismissal of 330 employees: about two-thirds of the entire work force. A year ago, the department handed back the prison to G4S.

The WJP has seen the part of the draft DCS report that refers to Nelani’s death. “In respect of death (sic.) of Isaac Nelani, a discrepancy exists between MCC [Mangaung Correctional Centre – ed.] and pathologist records, MCC records the death as a suicide, whilst pathologist records it as a head wound.” DCS, however, denies such a report existed. “DCS is not aware of any reference to a head wound with regard to Isaac Nelani.”

In 2010, a magistrate’s inquest into Isaac Nelani’s death revealed further worrying findings. It starts with the witness statements of the warders on duty that day. Sello Johannes Moleleke, the supervisor, stated that on May 18 2005 around 5pm, he checked up on all inmates in Broadway, by looking through the feeding hole. When he came to Nelani’s cell door, he saw that he was sitting next to the door “with a piece of clothing around his neck”. Moleleke’s colleague Vuyo David then called the prison hospital and two nurses were dispatched. When they arrived at the scene, they tried to resuscitate Nelani, but to no avail. He was pronounced dead. 

And this is where the plot thickens. South African Police (SAPS) arrived at the scene and they took pictures of Nelani’s corpse, his cell and of the unit Broadway. Then the body was transferred to the morgue. The next day, pathologist Robert Gene Book performed an autopsy on Nelani, as is required by law if a death is considered unnatural.

Brook qualifies the manner of death as “undetermined, but suspicious”. He does not mention a head wound, but does determine the inmate’s cause of death was “consistent with either hanging by the neck or strangulation”. What raised the pathologist’s suspicion was the bruising on Nelani’s heart. Bruising of the heart happens when there is huge impact, like a severe assault, a car accident, a fall to the ground from a great height, or when cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) takes place. A nurse did perform CPR on Nelani, but the location of the bruising on the heart apparently suggests it was not caused by the resuscitation attempt. “(..) the distribution of the said bruising (…) only on the posterior of the heart, adjacent the spine, lead me to suspect that blunt force had been applied to the heart”. 

In concluding the report, Brooks writes that none of the pieces of clothing that Nelani allegedly hanged himself by, were presented to him. The police had told him the inmate had hanged himself by a leather jacket, which he found to be completely inconsistent with the ligature marks on Nelani’s neck, with a piece of clothing that is not permitted in prison. “In civilized countries throughout the world, the Forensic Pathologist is called to scenes of death in custody; it never happens here in Bloemfontein. Never.” Brooks writes. 

So what did happen on May 18 2005 in Broadway? Four eyewitnesses told the WJP a chilling tale of a cover up.

Inmate Papi Maruping was locked up in a cell on the upper level of Broadway, facing the cell where the warders brought Nelani, a cell commonly referred to as the “dark room”. He and two other inmates say that the flap on the feeding hatches in the cell door was kept open, so they could see out through a slit. “Nelani was complaining about the cold and had demanded an extra blanket. He was given one, but when Maluleke came on duty, he took it from him. Nelani protested loudly and Maluleke called the EST (Emergency Security Team, also known as the Ninjas).” According to Maruping, six EST members, armed with electrically charged shields, came to the unit around one o’clock in the afternoon. “They took him out of his cell and twisted his arms behind his back. Nelani complained and asked them: ‘is this how you operate?’. They ordered him to strip and to take a cold shower, then he had to get dressed again and then they took him to the dark room.” 

The dark room was a windowless cell with thick walls that ensured it was a sound proof space. This is where an EST member, interviewed by BBC television on October 28 2013, admitted to bringing inmates to torture them. “Yeah we stripped them naked and we throw with water so the electricity can work nicely. I will shock him until he tells the truth that I want even if it’s a lie,” the Ninja said before camera. Around the same time, a further 13 dismissed EST members confirmed to the WJP that the dark room was used for this purpose.

“When they tried to take him to the dark room, he resisted. The EST guys surrounded him outside the cell, cuffed him and started to shock him with their shields. They kicked him too. Nelani was bleeding from the mouth and screaming, we could all hear him.” According to Maruping, Nelani was lying face down on the floor of the cell when he saw a doctor enter. “A doctor went into the cell and injected Nelani in his neck. Then they closed the cell door.”

Mxolisi Ndaba was also positioned on the upper floor of the isolation unit and followed what happened in Broadway, through the slit of the opened feeding hatch. “I heard Nelani scream, as the ninjas electroshocked him,” he recounts. “Then they dragged him into the dark room and the door closed. We all thought he was attacked in there.”

Ouba Mabalane was in the cell next to Ndaba. “They tortured him to death. I could hear him screaming. After he died, EST members hung up clothes to make it look like he committed suicide.”

An inmate tasked with cleaning the cells found Nelani dead when he served dinner around 5pm. Strangely, his statement was not included in the magistrate’s inquest and none of the warders who did issue statements mention him. That inmate has since been released on parole and he met with the WJP last year. He indicated that he wanted to remain anonymous, for fear of his parole being revoked. According to him, officials from G4S instructed him to state that Nelani died as a result of suicide, whereas he claims to have written to the DCS controller (a governmental official working at the prison who is supposed to oversee legal compliance of the company) that Nelani died as a result of a beating.

Maruping witnessed what might be the most chilling part of this tragic tale. “He opened the door to the cell and started shaking Nelani. Nelani was lying face down, with his hands cuffed behind his back. The inmate notified Maluleke who then made a phone call. Not much later, several officials entered the section. They went into the interview room in the corner of Broadway. When they came out, one of them was wearing rubber gloves and three men entered the cell and when they came out, I could see Nelani hanging from the door. His handcuffs had been removed.”

Inmate Tebogo Bereng also left Mangaung prison in a body bag, allegedly following an altercation about a blanket. On March 31 2013, Bereng, whose cell was in the Port Phillip unit, died in an isolation cell in the Wolds unit. His cellmate at the time, Lawrence Sehhonka, wrote to the WJP that Bereng had wanted to change his “inner duvet”, but the supervisor had refused. A verbal altercation broke out and the EST was called. “Supervisor called the EST to come and collect Tebogo Bereng to Broadway. Tebogo was shocked by the ninjas at that time.” Sehonka wrote.

Inmate Hlello Mbatyazwa saw Bereng arrive at the prison hospital. “Four or five Ninjas electroshocked him in the corridor at the entrance of the hospital, where there are no cameras. They put their shields to his head. Tebogo was handcuffed and he was screaming and trying to protect himself.”

Another inmate, Vusimuzi Nkonyana, saw Bereng leaving the hospital: “I saw him coming from the hospital as they were taking him to segregation. It looked like he was fitting.”

Bereng was an epilepsy patient, he wrote to the WJP in 2014 complaining about expired medication he was given for his epilepsy.

The ninjas escorted Bereng to an isolation cell in the Wolds unit. Some hours later, warders found Bereng lifeless in his cell and he was brought back to the hospital where a doctor declared him dead at 13:52. The doctor writes “post mortem requested” at the bottom of the medical form that was submitted to Chantelle Liebenberg, a pathologist at the state mortuary in Bloemfontein. Liebenberg however, only performed an external exam—a post mortem includes an internal exam—on April 2 and determined that the cause of death was natural, based on her examination and information given to her by the prison. She writes: “according to the inmate who shared a room with him, he started not feeling well and collapsed”. His cellmate, however, wrote to the WJP stating that he saw Bereng having a conflict with the warders and he saw the EST escort—a then still healthy—Bereng out of the unit.

The worrying inconsistencies do not stop here. Bereng’s brother Bassie recalls: “G4S phoned us and told us that Tebogo had died in his cell.” Bereng’s younger brother Robert: “We went to Mangaung prison where they handed us Tebogo’s belongings, but no one would talk to us.” When Robert saw the body of his brother at the state mortuary, things became even stranger. “He had a split lip, there was still dried-up blood on his lips.” Later, in the funeral home, Robert touched his brother’s body around his kidneys. “Some brown stuff, like cream, came off and the skin below was greenish.”

Nelani’s and Bereng’s suspicious passing are not the first or last death that has raised eyebrows at the embattled prison. The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) in its 2014 report signalled : “the contractor [G4S] breached clause 20 of the Concession Contract and Emergency Order No 3 namely by failing to comply with operating procedures by not getting into the cell immediately when they became aware of a suicide and resuscitating the inmate, failing to preserve the crime scene and failing to inform the controller within an hour of the incident”. It further stated that G4S had not provided an autopsy report for an alleged suicide that took place on August 13 2013.

In the section of the DCS draft report that the WJP has in its possession it further reads: “Death investigation reports are either not available, signed or include an autopsy report. MCC to confirm that all unnatural deaths are reported to the Police and next of kin and also that a record is kept of all deaths at MCC.”

A leaked internal email, exchanged among duty directors and managers at G4S during October 2012 reveals a possible culture of covering up. Tertius du Toit, the manager Compliance writes: “Hi, please be informed that it has come under my attention that this inmate tried to hang himself last night.” He goes on to explain that the inmate was removed from Broadway to health care, but there was no registration of his removal in the records, neither at Broadway nor at the hospital. The managers and directors on duty that day make no mention of the attempted hanging either. Du Toit then warns the addressees: “I personally think that there are a few ‘gaps’ that need appropriate attention and that if it gets to the wrong ‘ears’ we could have huge problems in terms of not reporting.”

However, despite evidence of non-compliance by their officials in terms of use of force, the obligation not to torture and the correct handling of deaths in custody, G4S was handed back control of the prison a year ago. Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha visited the jail shortly after the handover and said to the media that he was “very impressed with the state-of-the-art facility”. The department issued a press release in which they stated they were satisfied that the “issues” in Mangaung Correctional Centre had been resolved. Why then DCS has taken so long to finalise and publish their report on Mangaung prison is as big a mystery as the murky deaths of the Bereng and Nelani.

Department of Correctional Services responds: 

Your inquiry, with regards to Mangaung Correctional Centre (MCC), refers.

As stated previously, with regards to the investigation into MCC, there are still outstanding matters and further investigations are continuing, with more information and source documents being requested, based on issues emanating from the preliminary report.

The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has, most importantly, succeeded in stabilising the situation at the centre, and in restoring effective control, discipline and rehabilitation programmes. In terms of the Correctional Services Act and other relevant legislation, any person/s found guilty of any violation/s must face the consequences of their actions. To this end, DCS is ensuring that no stone is left unturned in this investigation and any person/s found guilty will face the full might of the law.

1. When is the DCS report on Mangaung prison going to be finalised?

The draft report confirmed the necessity for further investigation into a number of areas. Therefore, as further investigations are continuing, at this stage there is no “final” report.

2. Will it be made public?

DCS has not acceded to requests, in terms of PAIA, for the report to be made public.

3. Why has it taken so long to finalise? It’s been nearly two years since Minister Ndebele announced the investigation.

The team appointed to take over Mangaung had to deal with stabilising, and managing, the centre, in addition to conducting the investigation. Several shortcomings, particularly in terms of accessing source documents, were identified, leading to the need for further responses from BCC.

4. Why did a draft DCS report (a section of which the WJP has in its possession) contain this information about the death of inmate Isaac Nelani? “In respect of death of Isaac Nelani, a discrepancy exists between MCC [Mangaung Correctional Centre] and pathologist records, MCC records the death as a suicide, whilst pathologist records it as a head wound.”

DCS is not aware of any reference to a head wound with regard to Isaac Nelani. We request that such information be provided to DCS for investigation.

5. Why is there a discrepancy between the draft report and the pathologists’ report? Which information did the DCS task force base its comments on?

As far as DCS is aware, none of the documents refer to a head wound. 

6. Why have the people involved in Nelani’s death not been questioned or brought to justice?

Following an investigation into Nelani’s death by the Departmental Investigation Unit (DIU), the matter was referred to the SAPS for criminal investigation. DCS does not have the mandate to conduct a criminal investigation.

7. What kind of consequences, if any, does G4S have to face for the death of Isaac Nelani? The pathologist deemed the death “suspicious” and he points out that blunt force caused the bruising of the heart, which indicates severe injury/assault.

Should there be a finding in any case that the procedures/policies or terms of contract have not been adhered to by the Contractor, DCS refers the case to the Supervisory Committee for a ruling on penalties against the Contractor. As stated above, DCS can only act in terms of the contract and cannot initiate a criminal investigation. However, where DCS becomes aware of possible criminal liability, the matter is referred to the SAPS.

8. JICS signals another suspicious death, on 13 August 2013 of an inmate named Mosotho. No pathology report was provided. What is DCS doing about this?

The National Commissioner has appointed a Task Team to look into all unnatural deaths at MCC. In this regard, all necessary documents have been requested from the Contractor. Where these documents have not been submitted (and should be in terms of the Contract), the matter is referred to the Supervisory Committee in terms of the Contract. Any possible criminal investigation will be referred to the SAPS. It must be understood that DCS does not have this capacity (of the Task Team) immediately available, and personnel are drawn from their current duties. As such, this takes some time. The matter of Mosuthu has been referred to a magistrate for an inquest. The inquest docket would have a pathologist’s report.

9. Inmate Tebogo Bereng was epileptic and according to eyewitness accounts, he was electroshocked repeatedly to the head on 31 March 2013, which most likely caused his death. Is DCS aware this happened? Will DCS investigate this death?

Please refer to response above.

10. The DCS draft report also mentions: “Death investigation reports are either not available, signed or include an autopsy report. MCC to confirm that all unnatural deaths are reported to the Police and next of kin and also that a record is kept of all deaths at MCC.” What is DCS doing about this?

Please refer to response above. 

11. Does DCS consider G4S capable of running a prison if it covers up deaths in custody and fails to provide death investigation reports and pathologist’s reports?

Until investigations have been completed, DCS is unable to comment in this regard. DCS certainly takes any allegations of deaths in custody seriously. Hence, the appointment of the Task Team. However, the non-availability of documentation cannot always be said to be the fault of the Contractor, and, hence, the need for an investigation. 

12. What kind of fines have been issued against G4S? How many and what is the amount?

In terms of the Correctional Services Act, Section 112 was instituted against the Contractor.

G4S response:

Allegations – Mangaung Correctional Centre – Death of inmates

A draft report was passed to Bloemfontein Correctional Contracts (BCC) by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) last year. BCC has since responded in detail. G4S is confident that it complies with all the laws and regulations which stipulate in detail how investigations are conducted following the death of a prisoner and are committed to fully cooperate with the DCS. We strive at all times to uphold the rights of inmates and treat them accordingly.

Copyright Ruth Hopkins 2015

Related on F&O

Private prison operator accused of using drugs and electric shocks. By Ruth Hopkins, 2014 (*Subscription or day pass) 

F&O Hopkins

 A South African prison, run by the beleaguered multinational private security company G4S, allegedly forcibly injected inmates with antipsychotic medication and used electroshocks to subdue and control them. Prisoners, warders and health care workers said that involuntary medication was regularly practised at the Mangaung Correctional Centre near Bloemfontein. The company, G4S, denies any acts of assault or torture. The allegations are according to at least 35 sources – prisoners as well as security guards, prison and health officials – and based on medical records seen by reliable sources, legal documents and video footage shot inside the prison.

What has gone so horribly wrong with South Africa’s police? By Ruth Hopkins, 2013 (*Subscription or day pass)  

Steven Mothao was walking back home from a piece job on August 10, 2010, through Fordsburg in Joburg. Out of nowhere, three police officers appeared and pushed him against a wall. While onlookers gawked, the police officers slammed Mothao into a police van. He was detained in a police cell for 22 hours. For the first 14, he wasn’t offered a glass of water. Then Mothao was out on the street again. The police officers never identified themselves, they did not have an arrest warrant, and they did not inform Mothao of the reasons for his arrest. He sued the Minister of Police for damages and was awarded R150 000 in March. 

~~~

RuthHopkins-FAOFacts and Opinions contributor Ruth Hopkins is a senior journalist with the Wits Justice Project in Johannesburg, South Africa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us, with a subscription, (here), a donation (below), and/or by spreading the word.

 

 

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Oscar Pistorius and South African justice

399px-Oscar_Pistorius_2_Daegu_2011

Oscar Pistorius — “Blade Runner” — during 2011 World championships athletics in Daegu. Photo by Erik van Leeuwen, GNU Free Documentation License.

Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Olympian known as Blade Runner, was found not guilty in South Africa on Thursday of premeditated murder in the shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, a law graduate and model. Pistorius was convicted Friday** of unlawful homicide, a charge similar to that of manslaughter in other countries.

“I am not persuaded that a reasonable person … would have fired four shots into a toilet cubicle,” ruled Judge Thokozile Masipa Thursday, reported the Mail and Guardian. The judge said Pistorius used excessive force, was “negligent,” and “culpable homicide is a competent verdict.”

The court heard evidence that Pistorius killed Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in 2013 by firing his gun through the locked door of his toilet. He claimed he thought she was an intruder.

The trial has enthralled the world with its global media attention, but there is far more to the case than a murder. Interpretations of the high-profile drama range from its relevance to domestic violence, race relations, politics, media attention, and disabilities. This New York Times video nicely summarizes how Pistorius fascinates the world. Some argue the case — in which a man with white skin was judged by a woman with black skin — reveals South Africa’s post-apartheid progress. For example, wrote David Smith in The Guardian: “The notion that Masipa, who began studying law during apartheid and became only the second black woman appointed to the high court, is holding 27-year-old Pistorius’s fate in her hands would once have been unthinkable.”

But the real nub of the case, suggested Ruth Hopkins in her report earlier on F&O, is how the Pistorius trial exposed class justice in the new South Africa. An excerpt of Hopkins’ April dispatch (subscription* required), Oscar Pistorius and South Africa’s VIP Justice: 

Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial in South Africa, dubbed the trial of the century, has hogged the limelight since he was arrested and charged for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. The court room in the Pretoria High Court has become the focal point of the world’s media. Pistorius’ lawyer Barry Roux stole the show when he impressed both friend and foe by tenaciously laying bare inconsistencies in witnesses’ testimonies, narrowing in on forensic evidence incorrectly secured by officers at the crime scene, and challenging the state’s version of events. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has contested the defence’s evidence with equal tenacity. The legal spectacle that is unfolding has provided a breath-taking expose of the South African criminal justice system. This has led some commentators to conclude that the justice system itself is on trial.

Reeva_Steenkamp

Reeva Steenkamp. Photo handout released by Capacity Relations on Feb 14, 2013, via Wikipedia

The so-called OP case however, is hardly representative of the criminal justice system in this country, but rather exposes the ugly face of class justice. The trial has revealed a level of quality of the legal process that the criminal justice system is capable of producing, when a defendant with ample financial resources is on trial and the glaring spotlight of the world’s media is focused on court officials.

British honeymoon murder accused Shrien Dewani’s arrival in a privately chartered plane – paid for by the Department of Justice – flanked by medical staff to tend to his unstable mental condition, similarly sends the message that the South African courts respect and uphold human rights, most importantly the right to a fair trial.

But ordinary South African citizens are by no means guaranteed a fair trial. They battle a dysfunctional court system where bail is denied for no apparent reason, transcripts go missing, where lengthy delays put presumed innocent suspects behind bars for years, where overworked state-funded lawyers do not bother to question glaring inconsistencies, shoddy evidence and lying police officers. Inmates with medical conditions struggle to access medication, medical staff and legal relief for their conditions … read Oscar Pistorius and South Africa’s VIP Justice (*log in or subscribe first.)

 

 

 

 

*You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising. We do need and appreciate your support (a day pass is a buck and monthly subscription costs less than a cup of coffee), but if you’d like to give us a try before throwing pennies our way, email Editor@factsandopinions.com, and I will send you a complimentary day pass. 

** POST UPDATED Friday September 12 

Facts and Opinions is a select boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. 

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Oscar Pistorius and South Africa’s class justice

RuthHopkins-FAO

Ruth Hopkins

The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius, the “Blade Runner” Olympian, reveals as much about the ugly face of South African class justice as it does about the details of the killing, writes Facts and Opinions contributor Ruth Hopkins in F&O‘s Justice section. The trial has revealed the level of quality of the legal process that the criminal justice system is capable of producing — but ordinary South African citizens are by no means guaranteed a fair trial. An excerpt:

Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial in South Africa, dubbed the trial of the century, has hogged the limelight since he was arrested for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. The court room in the Pretoria High Court has become the focal point of the world’s media. Pistorius’ lawyer Barry Roux stole the show when he impressed both friend and foe by tenaciously laying bare inconsistencies in witnesses’ testimonies, narrowing in on forensic evidence incorrectly secured by officers at the crime scene, and challenging the state’s version of events. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has contested the defence’s evidence with equal tenacity. The legal spectacle that is unfolding has provided a breath-taking expose of the South African criminal justice system. This has led some commentators to conclude that the justicesystem itself is on trial.

The so-called OP case however, is hardly representative of the criminal justice system in this country, but rather exposes the ugly face of class justice. The trial has revealed a level of quality of the legal process that the criminal justice system is capable of producing, when a defendant with ample financial resources is on trial and the glaring spotlight of the world’s media is focused on court officials.

Log in to read Oscar Pistorius and South Africa’s VIP Justice by Ruth Hopkins. (Subscription or day pass*). More of Ruth Hopkins’ work is in Dispatches, Justice.

*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by readers who buy a subscription or a $1 site day pass. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.

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What has gone so horribly wrong with South Africa’s police?

By Ruth Hopkins
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa  October 17,2013

Steven Mothao was walking back home from a piece job on August 10, 2010, through Fordsburg in Joburg. Out of nowhere, three police officers appeared and pushed him against a wall.

While onlookers gawked, the police officers slammed Mothao into a police van. He was detained in a police cell for 22 hours. For the first 14, he wasn’t offered a glass of water. Then Mothao was out on the street again.

The police officers never identified themselves, they did not have an arrest warrant, and they did not inform Mothao of the reasons for his arrest. He sued the Minister of Police for damages and was awarded R150 000 in March.

Since 34 striking miners were shot and killed in Marikana in August last year, South African police have been in the spotlight and at the heart of a debate that has the nation grappling for an answer to the question: what has gone so horribly wrong? 

Seminars on police brutality were organized and opinion pieces penned. Public interest naturally gravitated to high-profile cases such as Marikana, the police killing of taxi driver Macia, and the corrupt Cato Manor police squad.

Thomas Kadi had a similar ordeal to Mothao when he worked as a security guard for Protea Coin in Roodepoort in 2007. A few days after some pipes and other building material were stolen, Kadi’s boss and two police officers arrested him. They took him to Roodepoort police station, where he spent three days in custody.

F&O Hopkins

Selwyn Afrikander at the place where he was arrested. Photo by Ruth Hopkins © 2013

After his release he found no charges had been brought against him. There was no arrest warrant and no evidence against him.

The Wits Law Clinic helped him sue the minister. He was awarded R120 000. Despite Kadi being innocent, he was fired, and as a result could not complete the course in criminal justice he was following after work. Ironically, Kadi hoped to qualify as a paralegal so he could help people exercise their rights during criminal trials. His wife divorced him and he now lives in a shack.

Kadi describes the three nights he spent in the cell as “terrible.” “There were people crying, sometimes there were 12 men in the cell and you have no privacy whatsoever. Some are coughing and you know there’s a chance you could get TB. It’s dirty and smelly in there. The blankets… are full of bugs.”

Ekurhuleni metro police clerk Selwyn Afrikander was not only unlawfully arrested, but beaten too.

The 23-year-old was arrested in April while he and a friend were returning home from a bar one Saturday night. As they walked through a dark street in Kempton Park to Afrikander’s house, they were ambushed by police officers. Two police officers grabbed them and pushed them into a van.

“I showed my mother the bruises and cuts on my back and she cried.”

“They drove us to the police station and brought us to a room. They cuffed us, they took their sjamboks out and beat us for about an hour.” The two officers put a plastic bag around Afrikander’s friend’s head and continued beating him.

“They were yelling at us: ‘Boesman, you have robbed people, tell us who you have robbed.’”

Eventually the cops let the two men go. As in Mothao’s and Kadi’s cases, there were no warrants for their arrests, the officers never identified themselves and did not bring any charges against them, as is legally required.

When the two men exited the van outside Afrikander’s house the officers assured them they would arrest them again if a coloured person was ever a suspect in Kempton Park.

“I showed my mother the bruises and cuts on my back and she cried,” said Afrikander.

The experience has left him angry. “I don’t trust them (police) and I will never trust an officer again. Whenever I see a police van, my heart pumps harder. I can’t communicate effectively at times anymore, because I have these flashbacks of what happened.

“These two officers are both still on duty. I see them walking the streets in my neighbourhood. I wonder if they will get away with this and if not, who is going to be their next victim.”

Unlike most people who are arrested unlawfully, Afrikander was acutely aware of his rights. The morning after he was beaten up, he went to the police station to file a complaint.

He then visited a hospital, where a doctor tended to his injuries and filled in a J88 form, a standard form that generates medical evidence for someone who has experienced assault.

Afrikander contacted the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) to report the crime and to initiate an internal investigation into the assault. His lawyer started a civil suit on his behalf, claiming damages for the unlawful arrest and assault.

No disciplinary measures have been taken against the two officers.

Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa recently acknowledged that there were many civil claims against the police for unlawful arrests. He said hardly any internal charges of misconduct or criminal procedures had been instituted.

Since 2009, the payments for civil claims against the police has doubled. In the past four years, R137.2 million was awarded in damages for unlawful arrests. In addition, civil claims amounting to R800 000 for assaults have been lodged against the police.

The taxpayer is footing the bill for the damages caused by reckless policing, while the officers and their superiors often get off scot-free.

Mass police recruitment and a declared War on Crime

The reasons for this surge in damages for unlawful police conduct are complex. The police have grown more than 50 percent since 2002. This mass recruitment drive has placed pressure on policing systems. Police training, for example, was shortened from two years to one. Recently the minister increased the length to two years again, but in the meantime, thousands of officers were improperly trained. Oversight, supervision and disciplinary mechanisms have been neglected in the push to accommodate new officers.

This mass recruitment was accompanied by managerial tough talk. Consecutive police ministers and commissioners have declared a war on crime. In 2010, Mthethwa said: “Criminals have defined themselves as outcasts in the community and as such they must be treated. To be where we are, we have waged many battles and will fight many more.”

Disgraced police commissioner Bheki Cele encouraged police officers to “shoot to kill” and worry about the consequences later. This belligerent approach, combined with a rapidly expanding force, has produced overzealous police officials who act first and think later. 

David Mkhwanazi is another citizen who suffered collateral damage from this approach. The former salesman for a car dealership in Orange Farm was running to catch a train in the Joburg suburb of Ennerdale in 2006 when the police arrested him.

They said he was part of a gang of 10 criminals who had just robbed and murdered an owner of a brick company and were visiting a sangoma to “cleanse” their weapons of fingerprints.

In custody, Mkhwanazi mistakenly signed a document he thought was a bail application – it turned out to be a confession.

The ensuing murder trial was marred by delays. It took six years before he could testify he had nothing to do with the crime. The judge released him for a lack of compelling evidence against him.

He swears he will never trust an officer again.

Mkhwanazi returned to his family in Orange Farm, but he is unemployed, estranged from his wife and daughter and finds it hard to imagine a future. “I am angry with the police and the system, but I don’t know what to do. I can’t afford a lawyer,” he said. He swears he will never trust an officer again.

Illegitimate arrests of citizens will erode the relationship between the men and women in blue and the community they are supposed to serve, said Gareth Newham, head of the governance, crime and justice division of the Institute for Security Studies, at an Institute conference on crime reduction.

“Evidence supports the hypothesis that the less respectful police are towards suspects and citizens, the less people will comply with the law.” Newham presented some worrying statistics. Since 2002, police brutality cases, registered by Ipid, have risen by 313 percent, which translates into a staggering average of five cases a day.

Unsurprisingly, a survey on the image of the police revealed only 41 percent of the population has any trust in the police force while 35 percent admit they are scared of the police.

Two sisters from Benoni, who want to remain anonymous because their civil case against a police officer has not yet been finalised, have gone from trusting the police to being frightened at the sight of a uniform.

“My father was a policeman, we grew up in that kind of environment. I always defended the police, but now I fear them,” the older sister said.

The siblings were at a nightclub in Brakpan in January 2010, when about 15 police officers entered the club, ordered everyone outside and arrested 30 people. The younger sister was herded outside with others and made to stand against the wall.

When her sibling came looking for her, a policeman grabbed her and started hitting her. “He pushed me to the floor, pulled my hair and started kicking me,” she said. She told the officer he was hurting her, but this just egged him on. “He tightened the handcuffs and asked me if I felt the pain.”

Everyone was then pushed into the vehicle, where the abuse continued. “The officer claimed I had used bad language. When I denied that, he punched me in the face several times. When my sister told him to stop hitting me, he punched her in the face too.”

The sisters were detained in a cell for eight hours, then released. They never learnt why they were arrested and there was no warrant or charge sheet. They reported the abusive police officer at the police station, but nothing happened. A few weeks later, they received a letter which stated the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had decided not to prosecute. “But I highly doubt they sent the report to the NPA.”

The sisters regularly see the policeman doing his rounds in the neighbourhood. Other members of the community have told them that the officer has not changed his ways, he has beaten up other people, but no disciplinary measures have been taken against him.

This blatant impunity for criminal acts seems to be a general trend: in the past five years, 11 880 criminal cases have been opened with Ipid, but only 129 of these cases led to convictions.

Moreover, 1 448 serving police officers have a criminal record, including for murder rape and assault.

Internal disciplinary procedures do not seem to yield any satisfying results as the most likely outcome – one in five hearings – finalised in 2011/2012 was “not guilty”, whereas one in three resulted in “no sanction” against the accused officer.

The Department of Police was approached for a response to this article, but it declined.

 Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hopkins

Facts and Opinions contributor Ruth Hopkins is a senior journalist with the Wits Justice Project in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Ruth Hopkins

 

RuthHopkins-FAO

Facts and Opinions contributor Ruth Hopkins is a senior journalist with the Wits Justice Project in Johannesburg, South Africa. She wrote a book on trafficking in women in/to Europe, which was published in Dutch in 2005 (Ik laat je nooit meer gaan, “I will never let you go again”). She is agonisingly close to finishing her first novel, on women locked up in Magdalene convents in Ireland. Hopkins was named the South African print Legal Journalist of the Year in 2012.

Hopkins writes on Justice, in F&O’s Dispatches section.

 

 

 

A selection of Ruth Hopkins’ work on F&O:

The Prison Rodeo  By Ruth Hopkins

Angola prison, formally known as the Louisiana State Penitentiary, is built on 18,000 acres of land in an American river basin nestled in between the Mississippi river and Lake Killarney. It would be beautiful if I hadn’t seen the disturbing pictures of African American prisoners picking cotton while a big white guy on a horse oversees their work. Angola prison takes its name from the Angolan slaves who picked cotton on the slave plantation that used to thrive on these very grounds.

© Palesa 2016

© Palesa 2016

Filth, disease, sex and violence for South African female inmates. By Ruth Hopkins

International Women’s Day on March 8 turns the spotlight on the fate of women, in particular their achievements and the slow pace of progress. An often overlooked group are women prisoners. Their needs, views and struggles barely figure in South African feminist discourse, let alone in the mainstream debate in society.

 South African prison inmate ‘tortured to death’. By Ruth Hopkins

Several inmates incarcerated in South Africa’s Mangaung prison have died under suspicious circumstances. Documents that were recently provided to the WJP and eyewitness accounts contain shocking allegations that inmates were tortured before they died, while the prison registered their deaths as either “natural” or “suicide”. More worryingly, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) is aware that G4S’ recordkeeping of deaths in custody is not up to standard and that deaths through torture may go undetected. Despite that knowledge, it has not held G4S accountable.

Oscar Pistorius and South Africa’s VIP Justice. By Ruth Hopkins

399px-Oscar_Pistorius_2_Daegu_2011Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial in South Africa, dubbed the trial of the century, has hogged the limelight since he was arrested and charged for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. The “OP” case however, is hardly representative of South Africa’s criminal justice system — but rather exposes the ugly face of class justice. The trial has revealed a level of quality of the legal process that the criminal justice system is capable of producing, but ordinary South African citizens are by no means guaranteed a fair trial.

Private prison operator accused of using drugs and electric shocks. By Ruth Hopkins

 A South African prison, run by the beleaguered multinational private security company G4S, allegedly forcibly injected inmates with antipsychotic medication and used electroshocks to subdue and control them. Prisoners, warders and health care workers said that involuntary medication was regularly practised at the Mangaung Correctional Centre near Bloemfontein. The company, G4S, denies any acts of assault or torture. The allegations are according to at least 35 sources – prisoners as well as security guards, prison and health officials – and based on medical records seen by reliable sources, legal documents and video footage shot inside the prison.

What has gone so horribly wrong with South Africa’s police? By Ruth Hopkins

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© Ruth Hopkins 2013

Steven Mothao was walking back home from a piece job on August 10, 2010, through Fordsburg in Joburg. Out of nowhere, three police officers appeared and pushed him against a wall. While onlookers gawked, the police officers slammed Mothao into a police van. He was detained in a police cell for 22 hours. For the first 14, he wasn’t offered a glass of water. Then Mothao was out on the street again. The police officers never identified themselves, they did not have an arrest warrant, and they did not inform Mothao of the reasons for his arrest. He sued the Minister of Police for damages and was awarded R150 000 in March.

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