Diary Pages: Army and Police Brutality

During the Lockdown, the government has deployed both the police and the army on the streets to police its lockdown legislation. At the end of May, Police Minister Bheki Cele claimed that almost 230,000 arrests had occured for lockdown infringements. During the same period, at least eleven people lost their lives at the hands of security services. We asked our participants what their reactions were to the deaths of Collins Khosa, Sibusiso Amos, Adane Emmanuel and others, who had allegedly been killed by security services during lockdown. We also asked for their reflections on the government’s handling of these cases.

Action Needed

A few of our participants had not heard about the cases, or did not feel that they had enough information to make a judgement. Those who commented were united in calling for action against those implicated.

‘I think government should make sure these people are locked up and those are serious offense.’ – Gift, Imizamo Yethu

‘Suppose to be investigation that are happening, and people should be updated, not this quietness that is happening but people lost their relatives and I think government is not doing justice’ – Nozuko, Siyahlala

‘The police did not act accordingly, using brutality to enforce lockdown procedures or rules to be followed was not a good way and justice need to be served and they have to take accountability for their actions.  I haven’t heard how the government handled these cases but they have to be held responsible’ – Kungo, Shukushukuma

The brutality of the police and the army was seen as a betrayal: the security services were persecuting those they were supposed to protect.

‘I mean these guys supouse to protect us in any case rather beating people during this hard time of cov 19’ – Gift, Imizamo Yethu

‘Army/Police during the lockdown they abused us brutally and killed innocent people supposed they protect us but our government fail us not handle those case  at all they just doing it for the media’. – Lumkile, Khayelitsha

‘We, the citizens, put our trust and respect in the government and one of its executive arms, the police and army. The power is given to them by us, the people. When that power is abused and used against us in excessive show of power, then we lose that respect’.  – Scott, Salt River

Training: Are the army equipped to engage in policing?

Some diarists raised the issue of training – particularly for the army – asking whether they had been properly prepared for policing the streets in South Africa.

‘I think it has shown us as a country that our law enforcement agencies need proper training on how to deal with different disputes and we don’t need heavy-handed  enforcements who are particular harsh against the poor and marginalised people.’ – Siphenathi, Khayelitsha

‘We must remember that the army go out facing the enemy, I dont think they were well prepared for this task. They were in camps and do training every day how to fight. It was the responsibility of the government to make sure that they going out there to work with citizens’ – Philip, Hangberg

A Systemic Issue

But for many diarists the issue was not simply about training – impunity for brutality was an established trend in South Africa – and it was linked to the question of whose life counted.

‘How government handled the matter it’s poor. They always protect their police army or traffic [police] . They [the police] bully us.’ – Samkelo, Imizamo Yethu

‘Terribly sad, it’s inexcusable that the cops are used as an oppressive force during this time rather than being supportive, which their role should be. I believe the attitude comes directly from Min Cele down.’ – Thomas, CBD

‘It is shocking to see how our government has kept quiet in this manner with soo many lives lost. The law is being ignored… I hope there’s a person who is friendly with politicians so we can see the law take its course, “who are you, who do you know, who knows you, what do you have” that’s the life in South Africa’. Sam, Khayelitsha

Whose life counts? Racism and poverty – a national and global issue

For many diarists, this was not a new story: it spoke to a long history of oppression in South Africa, where racism and class-based oppression collided. Diarists drew links between the deaths during Lockdown and the shooting of 43 miners at the Marikana Massacre in 2014, the killing of Andries Tatane in 2011 and the deployment of the army in the Cape Flats. Looking beyond South Africa’s borders, they also pointed to the protests spreading from the US across the world: This violence – and the impunity that facilitated it – was a global issue.

‘I’m taken by all the violence and injustice done to our people. I have seen brutal acts by the police to unarmed citizens, i am not happy with the way they handle our people, yet they can be so civil with white people its like different Lockdown rules apply to ‘them’.  I really think government should do more bcoz it will only get worse and citizens will take matters into their own hands if they feel government dont care enough. Its tragic waht happened to these people’ – Mysterious M, Gouda

‘Our government handles this cases unfair they could have started with the regulations of lockdown and then make the army and police accountable. They saw the news and and do nothing really failed us again. Andries Tatatane killed the way these people died. He was shot by the police when he fought for the service delivery why these things happened in Black people , it’s because of our black colour we have and poor. – Zukiswa, Khayelitsha

‘Eish personally it gets to me and its a very bad case how the certain people are allowed to get away with killing black people if it was a white man it would be a different story its like the government is saying black  lives don’t matter, actually the whole world’s system is like that and people are starting to notice its been a while it needs to stop’. – Sivuyile, Khayelitsha

‘It obviously shows the army doesn’t know its role in our society. It has [failed] to uphold the standards it’s required to abide by. And if our country is going towards this direction we might end up like countries America where police are seen as threat to black lives… These incidents are similar to that of Marikana, where innocent lives were taken without consent. History has a way of repeating itself’. – Khaya, Khayelitsha

‘Here in South Africa we have seen the government’s response to police brutality is always in favour of the police. South Africa government have not yet taken the issue seriously and there hasn’t been any measure to ensure people are being treated with dignity especially protesters. …These people deserve justice and the people who are supposed to protect him killed him and still got away with it, we have seen in Marikana and Andreas Tatane’. – Esethu, Khayelitsha

Whilst this violence and impunity exist, some diarists feared that they might be next:

‘Well I feel that it’s so sad how someone can get killed in his own home and yet the video goes viral but still its always an investigation that doesn’t get no justice or solution…it’s to make u afraid because it can happen to any of us 😢 how many more must still get killed ??? How many more do we have to see … There is no justice for us only for those who they feel like. Why must we abide the law if those who enforce the law goes against the law ….’ – Naeema, Woodstock

‘I’m am sick to my stomach when I go out. Fearing I could be next. Govt needs to be held accountable for this Kak happening now’. – Jazzy D, Woodstock


What measures must the government take to ensure that there is effective action against the structural problems evident in South Africa’s security services?

Would measures such as body cams help to improve accountability?

Should South Africa consider defunding the police?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: