Six police held for dog attacks on black prisoners

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The Independent Online

South Africans of all races expressed revulsion yesterday at the continued racism and brutality in their country after state television broadcast a gruesome home video of white police officers setting dogs on three black prisoners and laughing as the animals mauled their victims.

South Africans of all races expressed revulsion yesterday at the continued racism and brutality in their country after state television broadcast a gruesome home video of white police officers setting dogs on three black prisoners and laughing as the animals mauled their victims.

Pre-empting a huge outcry yesterday - from the church and politicians as well as the public in radio phone-ins - the government acted swiftly, ordering the arrest of six police officers from the North-east Rand dog unit, near Johannesburg, before the video was broadcast on Tuesday.

The six white officers, all serving dog handlers, are expected to appear in court in Pretoria today on charges of attempted murder. However, the prosecution may be hampered because the film was made in 1998 and the victims' whereabouts and identities are unknown.

The 45-minute film, which is understood to have been recorded on a slagheap near Johannesburg, shows the three victims - described by state television as Mozambican illegal immigrants - being led from a minibus to be attacked by up to four dogs.

The officers, who at times call for the camera to move in for close-ups of the attacks, are seen referring to their video as "a training film". On several occasions they shout racial abuse in Afrikaans and laugh as the dogs dig their teeth into the victims. One of those attacked screams for mercy and shields his head as a police boot on his chest prevents him from fighting off the alsatian biting his inner thigh. In another scene, a dog grips one man with its jaws and drags him along.

After the attacks, the three men, their clothes torn and with blood pouring from bites, are lined up and beaten to the ground by the officers.

The transmission of the video - which seemed to have been knowledgeably shot and edited by the police officers before it was obtained by the Special Assignment television series - prompted a pledge yesterday by South Africa's police commissioner, Jackie Selebi, that racist officers would be "flushed out and imprisoned".

The safety and security minister, Steve Tshwete, who was filmed by Special Assignment turning away from the screen on several occasions during a private viewing, said he was "horrified and outraged". He said: "Although the incident took place in 1998, I find it difficult to believe that such a naked display of racism and brutality could have occurred four years into our democracy."

The opposition Democratic Alliance - which includes remnants of the National Party, which ruled during apartheid - praised the government's swift action against the officers. The Pan Africanist Congress called on blacks to retaliate against racists, adding "clever talk can no longer cover it - racism from whites is so deep-seated that Africans have ceased to be human beings in their eyes".

The speaker of South Africa's parliament, Frene Ginwala, who is currently hosting 200 MPs from other African countries, apologised "to the continent" for her country's xenophobia. President Thabo Mbeki's office said he had seen the footage and was shocked.

The South African Human Rights Commission called for an undertaking from police that the problem of violence within the force would be tackled. It said the three victims should all be traced and compensated. The South African Council of Churches said the film demonstrated the "spiritual and moral bankruptcy" of the country.

The footage shown on South African television is only the latest evidence of widespread violence within the police force and of the country's xenophobia, especially towards people from other African countries.

Yesterday, the Independent Complaints Directorate - which monitors police violence - said it was currently investigating four complaints against dog units among the nearly 800 reports of violence it has received in the past year.

Analysts said that specialist units - such as dog handlers and murder squads - were more often staffed by whites. They said the modernisation of the police force had been slow, with the number of black officers increasing by only 3 per cent between 1997 and this year to 59 per cent.

Police officers from Johannesburg's flying squad were shown kicking and beating two hijackers, one of whom subsequently died, in footage shown by BBC television in April last year. Then, as in this case, the filmed officers appeared proud of their behaviour.

This week, after countless reports of attacks by the police on foreigners, the South African government told a delegation sent from neighbouring Mozambique that attempts would be made to cut down on cases of extortion and other attacks on people trying to enter South Africa illegally.

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