The high rate of police brutality in Africa suggests that there might still be ‘military’ rule within democratic states
CCTV footage showing the murder – execution style – of Khulekani Mpanza, a suspected armed robber, by a group of policemen in Krugersdorp, South Africa surfaced in the media on the 1st of November, 2015. The deceased was shot, point blank, after being chased down and falling to the side of a pavement, wounded from a gunshot, following an alleged plan to rob a hardware store.
It is reported that his plans were botched as a result of a tip–off to the police, which led to an exchange of fire between both sides, with Mpanza taking the first shots at a nearby police van.
The four policemen involved in the incident have since been arrested, due to the unethical manner in which Mpanza was dealt with. Dr. Johan Burger, an expert on policing, described the act as callous, given the fact that before his death, the fatally wounded Mpanza no longer posed a threat to the policemen.
According to him, the men were also guilty of assaulting the deceased while he was in an injured state, not offering him the required medical assistance and a joint refusal of other policemen to stop the officer who took the shot from committing the crime.
This kind of police reaction is far from strange in South Africa as the country is caught in a war between its police force and violent criminals, who are constantly and increasingly posing a threat to their lives. On the other hand, police brutality is also common, either in a case of an aggravated ‘response’ involving a criminal or where innocent citizens are involved.
In an incident two months ago, eight policemen were convicted of murder and are presently awaiting trial.
Mpanza’s unfortunate end may be subject to debate, based on the details of the situation in which he found himself, but it does not change the fact that the police acted outside of the law, nor does it mean that criminals are the only set of people that suffer from police brutality throughout Africa.
The police force is meant to be a democratic institution which exists to serve and protect citizens in the society and basically prevent said society from breaking out in chaos resulting from crimes. These days, however, it appears that their not-too-noble origins (which, historically, lies in class divisions) are resurfacing, evident in the alarming rate at which complaints of police brutality are being regularly laid.
Up until the late 1990s, military rule was the order of the day in a lot of African countries and with it came the frequent and unjust oppression of citizens, which became ‘normal’ and did not end with the demise of the aforementioned military rule. Other than that, the military in Nigeria generally appears to be above the law, using their uniform to intimidate and oppress citizens of the country, going against what they stand for. Earlier this year, in June, Amnesty International issued a report on war crimes committed by the Nigerian military, further exposing this problem.
Going with the surge of videos that appear in the media these days, perhaps the issue is not the type of system that a society practices, but the presence of any type of uniform. Just last week, a Lagos journalist, along with a few others, was forcefully taken and tortured by police officers during a ‘raid’ in FESTAC. The perpetrators are currently in detention.
Several other instances abound where the police force has exerted unnecessary force on the citizens that it is meant to protect for various reasons, not only in Africa, but also in different parts of the world. Police brutality is currently a hot topic, but is it possible for the discourse to bring about a much needed reform?