When South African police opened fire on a group of picketing miners last year their gunfire was heard around the world. It was the most violent use of force against civilians since the end of apartheid, raising serious questions about police brutality in the new South Africa.

DR DANNY TITUS, SOUTH AFRICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION:      Unfortunately they have gone off the rails. We now see these abuses by police… black police officers largely in a democratic South Africa and people who are supposed to understand… have empathy, training. That concerns us. Because now the issues are arrogance, the issues are now clearly, abuse of power. Did we fight for this? Did we go through all the apartheid struggles and tensions and human rights violations to fight for a better society and this is what we get?

The same questions are being asked in the town of Daveyton – east of Johannesburg.  I've come here to investigate another killing by police in far different circumstances.

BADANISLE NGWENYA:    This is Mido, this one. Everbody is shocked because it is not a nice story. It’s a horrible story… It’s painful. They don’t protect us, instead they are killing us.

It was a story played out in front of a horrified crowd. Mido Masia, a 20-year-old taxi driver from Mozambique was handcuffed to a police van and dragged 400m along the road. His family never saw him again. Mido's aunt, Badanisle Ngwenya, is taking me to the spot where her nephew's ordeal began.

BADANISLE NGWENYA:  This is the place, they dragged him from here to the police station, straight down there. Yes. Straight down here.

It started as a simple traffic dispute. There was an argument and things got quickly out of control. The police say Mido assaulted a constable and took his weapon.

WOMAN (Translation):  We know this person, he is not a troublemaker, he does not quarrel with anyone. We have known him for a long time.

WOMAN 2 (Translation):  Everyone everywhere was crying, people cried over what they did. They were asking “What did this person do?” But with police, what can you do? We had no power because they are armed with guns.

Mido Masia died in his cell a few hours after arriving at this police station. A post mortem indicated he had been repeatedly beaten. Nine officers have been suspended and are awaiting trial. But for Mido's grieving family the jury is already out. 

BADANISLE NGWENYA (Translation):  They do many things in secret but this one has exposed them and it actually shows the police deeds for what they are.

REPORTER:   Can you tell me about your personal reaction the moment you saw the video?

COMMISSIONER MZWANDILE PETROS:   Look, it was a shock. It's a shocking video. Like everybody else reacted, I reacted in the same way.

Commissioner Mzwandile Petros is responsible for the Daveyton police station where Mido died.

COMMISSIONER MZWANDILE PETROS:  We did as a leadership of the police, express our regret for the loss of life. We would like to treat it as an isolated incident, is what we said.

But in recent years video after video has emerged showing South Africa's finest as anything but.

DR DANNY TITUS:   When it comes to police brutality we have increased over 300% in the last decade.

Dr Danny Titus from the South African Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned.

DR DANNY TITUS:   This is not an indication of one or two bad apples. These are in my opinion systemic matters that need to be dealt with in a systemic way.

91 officers were killed in the line of duty last year. Today the fallen officers are being remembered at a gathering for their widows and children. It's a chance to try and lift sinking morale over the incessant talk of police brutality.

POLICEMAN:   We are with you. We will support you in our prayers. Please don't lose hope. Not all of us are rotten apples.

Diepsloot is a sprawling squatter camp north of Johannesburg. It's here I meet Golden who describes himself as a community journalist. He takes me on a tour of one of South Africa's most deadly neighbourhoods. It doesn't take long to establish people's deep-seated distrust of the police.

WOMAN (Translation):   No, they don’t check on us or look out for us. We call them and they say, “Here’s a thug, we’ve got him.”  They don't come, so we make the decision and kill him, it’s better.

GOLDEN:  Yeah, it’s a slaughter camp.

REPORTER:   Not a squatter but a slaughter camp?

GOLDEN:  Yeah, I call it a slaughter camp because that's where we have experienced a lot of murders.


Golden has amassed a gruesome catalogue of crime that's taken place on his doorstep.

GOLDEN:   This is where live.

Many of his photos and videos show alleged criminals who have been chased down and killed by vigilante mobs.

GOLDEN:  They beat him up. They set him alight.

REPORTER:   They set him on fire?


REPORTER:   Did he die?

GOLDEN:   Yeah, he died instantly. Yeah. This mob justice took about five hours. The police were present when this was happening. People don't believe in the justice system, that's why they take the law into their own hands.

To counter the barrage of negative publicity, today police are staging a display of their professionalism.  First up, their response to a hostage situation.  Then a scenario that looks suspiciously like what happened at Marikana - demonstrators show their placards and the police form a line. Only here officers show remarkable restraint and it's a protester doing the shooting, not the other way around. 

POLICEMAN:   No need for firearms unless the target engages you…no need to shoot while they’re running…unless they’re targeting you

On the day of the Marikana massacre police formed a cordon around hundreds of striking miners armed with traditional weapons. Tensions were high with 8 killed in the preceding week including two policemen.

ANDILE NOSE, DRILL OPERATOR (Translation):  When they got near the enclosure, the police opened fire.

This drill operator, Andile Nose is still haunted by what happened that day.

ANDILE NOSE (Translation):  I thought I was dead. That’s the first thing I thought - that I was dead because the police weren’t firing warning shots. They were shooting at the people

When the dust settled, 34 miners lay dead. Police insisted it was a clear-cut case of self-defence.

ANDILE NOSE (Translation):  This government murders. They don’t muck around.

Today I have joined loved ones of some of the men killed at Marikana. Even though they are grieving they are in high spirits, steeling themselves for another traumatic day at the ongoing commission of inquiry into the massacre.

WOMAN (Translation):  My uncle, he died, so we want to find out what is going on – our hearts are aching.

GEORGE BIZOS:   I am going to put to you that there is no evidence, either photographic or video, to show that any police officer was in imminent danger from any attack from any protester.

Inside, George Bizos is pulling no punches as he questions National Police Chief, Riah Phiyega.

GEORGE BIZOS:   I want to put to you that the force employed was disproportional, excessive, extreme and manifestly unlawful.

The veteran human rights lawyer has been at the vanguard of change in South Africa for decades and is famous for his forensic cross-examination of the brutal apartheid era police. Now at 84 years old he has been called up again.

GEORGE BIZOS:   There are too many people killed on the basis that the police acted in self-defence. The constitution, the legislation relating to the conduct of the police and the police orders are absolutely clear that the use of lethal force is literally the last resort.

When this police video came to light it shifted the focus of the commission it showed the site where most of the miners died that day an outcrop of rocks 300m away from the view of television cameras. At this second site most of the miners were reportedly shot in the back, some in the head. There have been suggestions police may have fired on those who were trying to surrender.

POLICE OFFICER 1:  Wait, don’t shoot him, don’t shoot him.

On the police video after this command is heard shots ring out. A police officer boasts about his kill.

POLICE OFFICER 2:  That motherfucker! I shot him at least ten times.

RIAH PHIYEGA, NATIONAL POLICE CHIEF:  Were they shot in the head standing up straight or were they trying to duck the bullets and met those that were going to the ground? I don’t know!

GEORGE BIZOS:    I didn’t ask you that, I asked you if shooting people in the head is a sure way of killing them?

LAWYER:   The proposition which my learned colleague is putting to the witness is unfair and may be misleading.

GEORGE BIZOS:   This idea of shooting in self-defence is a false allegation.

At a cemetery in Sharpeville a memorial is being held to mark the 53rd anniversary of South Africa's most infamous incident of police brutality, the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. Police opened fire on a peaceful protest killing 69 people including 10 children. There too the police claimed they had shot in self-defence.

LAZARUS MTHIMKULU:  The police - they were scattered all over the ground. The blood was showing everywhere.

Lazarus Mthimkulu's uncle was among the dead.

REPORTER:   It's a long time since the event but is the memory still strong?


Memories revived by what happened at Marikana.

LAZARUS MTHIMKULU:  It surprised us because it was black to another black. We thought something like that don't happen anymore because now we're all black and all democratic.

CROWD (Translation):   Our Africa! Our Africa, our land!  Viva, viva!

With history seemingly repeating itself police brutality is once again at the fore. But George Bizos is still optimistic his country is heading in the right direction.

GEORGE BIZOS:   I have been described as an optimist. But then you must remember I was an optimist in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s. With all our failures in relation to health and education and security, criminality, despite our failures we are on the right path. The things that some of us have worked for will incrementally come about in the not too distant future.

ANJALI RAO:    David O'Shea reporting. The latest from the Marikana mine commission is that lawyers appearing there are demanding the commission speed up its work. They say the slow pace is extending the grief and suffering of families of the victims.








Original Music Composed by VICKI HANSEN

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