The 12-minute film, which showed Johannesburg police attacking suspected car hijackers, all of whom appear to be either black or "coloured", brought an outcry from human rights lawyers who demanded wholesale reform of the service. But callers to the BBC's Johannesburg bureau and to local radio stations were almost universally supportive of the police, saying the alleged criminals got what they deserved.
The BBC footage showed one suspect being dragged out of his smashed car and then hit by a policeman with a rifle butt. Two other suspects were beaten while lying handcuffed on the ground and then a police dog was allowed forward to bite each man at least once. In the video, the men can be heard screaming as the dog bites their arms. Police officers can be heard laughing in the background. One man had a cigarette stubbed out on his head.
"Outlawed apartheid police practices still continue. In terms of policing techniques, the police are ignorant of international norms," said Vinodh Jaichand, the national director of Lawyers for Human Rights. The film showed scenes more usually associated with the apartheid era, when police and armed forces acted with impunity against political opponents and criminals before majority rule began in 1994.
"The scenes of shocking disregard for basic human rights, has left me extremely disappointed and perturbed," the head of the police service, George Fivas, said in a statement. "This type of behaviour ... is totally unacceptable."
A separate police statement termed the actions "despicable acts of lawlessness" that were unacceptable and made a "mockery" of the police.
Mark Reynolds, a police spokesman, said six serving flying squad officers had been suspended and an inquiry had begun into two counts of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. The attacks are also to be investigated by an independent body that oversees the police force. (Reuters)Reuse content