Law enforcement does not mean the use of brutal force

14 September 2017 - 07:05 By The Times Editorial
Pinkie and Ona Dubula.
Pinkie and Ona Dubula.
Image: Kimon de Greef

Thanks to a Cape Town policeman, South Africa has a new addition to its dismal gallery of photographs stretching back decades and depicting inexcusable brutality on the part of law-enforcement officers.

The policeman, in a helmet and body armour, stands pointing a weapon at three people - a 14-year-old boy and two women - as they cower behind an overturned picnic table stolen by protesters from a Hout Bay waterfront restaurant on Tuesday.

In the background lie the waters of one of Cape Town's favourite holiday beaches, and in the distance are the multimillion-rand apartments at 1 Chapman's Peak Drive.

It's a perfect depiction of one of the many unpalatable realities facing a country beset by deep inequality where violent protest has become the unofficial 12th language of public discourse and police respond badly.

With the muzzle of his Musgrave 12-gauge pump-action shotgun no further than 50cm from Ona Dubula's head, the policeman then fired several rubber bullets, two of which hit the boy in the mouth.

According to a national instruction to public order police in 2014, this should not have happened. "Approved rubber rounds may only be used as offensive measures to disperse a crowd in extreme circumstances, if less forceful methods have proven ineffective," it says.

"The degree of force must be proportional to the seriousness of the situation and the threat posed ... it must be reasonable in the circumstances; the minimum force must be used to accomplish the goal; and the use of force must be discontinued immediately once the objective has been achieved."

Something went very wrong with the policing of Hout Bay's unrest on Tuesday, as it did in Marikana five years ago. If, at some stage, we can find a permanent police commissioner who turns out to be honest and competent, this is something he could address.