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The rules are clear: Police can't shoot rubber bullets at point-blank range

14 September 2017 - 11:22 By Aron Hyman
Police move in to clear barricade set up by Hangberg protesters. A young boy is shot in the face by a rubber bullet.
Police move in to clear barricade set up by Hangberg protesters. A young boy is shot in the face by a rubber bullet.
Image: Justin Sullivan

Pinky Dubula - the mother of the 14-year-old boy who had been shot in the mouth by police on Tuesday - is set to speak to doctors about this condition on Thursday.

Ona underwent an operation on Wednesday at Groote Schuur Hospital to remove a rubber bullet from his mouth.

"I tried to sleep last night‚ but I couldn't‚'' said Dubula who had spent Tuesday and Wednesday at her son's side in hospital.

She has barely eaten or slept since the shooting.

"I am going to speak to doctors this morning to find out how he is doing‚" said Dubula.

News of the child being shot at close range by police in Hangberg in Hout Bay‚ Cape Town‚ has caused widespread outcry.

Head of the governance‚ crime and justice division at the Institute for Security Studies‚ Gareth Newham‚ explained that protests were getting more violent because underlying issues were not being resolved.

In Hangberg there are a host of problems‚ including the reduction of fishing quotas and the lack of service delivery.

Newham said police should always be planning and operating to diffuse a situation. He explained that there are very clear rules of engagement when it comes to using rubber bullets.

"Public order police may not shoot rubber bullets at point blank range‚'' said Newham.

"They need to make sure that they only shoot rubber bullets from a distance‚ like 20 metres or something. And then the rubber bullets must skip-fire ... the rubber bullets must hit the ground first.''

WATCH | [WARNING: Graphic content] The moment police shot a 14-year-old boy at close range

He said as communities become accustomed to public order police they are adapting their tactics‚ becoming more violent and often undermine police.

As a result officers start using teargas and rubber bullets to disperse people to restore order.

“[Communities] adapt their tactics and start becoming more and more violent and so the violence escalates and you get to a situation where they use petrol bombs‚ catapults‚ and flares‚” said Newham.

“The solution is not in policing. Policing can only ever be a short gap measure. Authorities should be engaging with communities efficiently for things to change‚” said Newham.

When an investigating police misconduct‚ he said‚ authorities often only look at the action of an individual police officer but not the broader context such as what decisions were taken by his or her supervisor.

“If they don’t look at whether the supervisor was behaving correctly then it is very likely that members under that supervisor will‚ in the future … act outside of the rules and regulations‚” he said.

When Newham viewed the video of Ona being shot he said there was ''no acceptable reason for that officer'' to have acted the way he did.

"The boy does not appear to be posing any discernible threat to the officer. What can be seen in the video suggest a severe breach of the law and regulations governing public order policing‚'' he said.