Soldiers, police and other “security forces” personnel allegedly involved in wrongdoing, in one instance apparently murder, have to be suspended from duty while investigations into their conduct are underway.
This is one part of a ruling by North Gauteng High Court Judge Hans Fabricius in a case brought by the family of Collins Khosa, an Alexandra resident allegedly tortured and killed by soldiers, police and Johannesburg Metro police. He was reportedly “caught” drinking in the garden of his house in the township, north-east of Sandton last month.
Investigations into his death must be completed by 4 June – less than three weeks from today (18 May). Reports have it Judge Fabricius was critical of the lockdown regulations and the way they are enforced by authorities, including law enforcement at municipal level as well as by the national defence force and police.
Daily Maverick reports the upper level Pretoria court “criticised Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Police Minister Bheki Cele’s comments during the lockdown and said government had not clearly condemned acts of abuse”.
He said further: “No proper guidelines have as yet been issued in my view to inform even SANDF members, let alone civilians how security forces may enforce the lockdown, including when and to which extent they may use force”. The judge also instructed authorities to issue and share a code of conduct to guide lockdown operations.
The ruling was welcomed by South Africa’s largest defence trade union – Sandu (SA National Defence Union) – and the Democratic Alliance (DA). At the time of publication there was no official response from either the Defence Ministry, the Department of Defence (DoD) or the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
Welcoming the court ruling, Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff said: “It is concerning that the Minister of Defence opposed a matter which essentially was a search for accountability and enforcement of the rule of law. Directly after the tragic death of Mr Khosa, Sandu demanded the matter be investigated and appropriate disciplinary steps be taken by the DoD, a call not heeded”.
The union is adamant undisciplined soldiers and violations of the Constitution are “unacceptable and must be dealt with by the fullest might of the law”.
DA shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais also welcomed the court’s ruling adding it “should send a strong message to law enforcement officials that they are not above the law and South Africans have the right to be treated with dignity”.
“Since the start of the lockdown, we have witnessed and heard harrowing accounts of law enforcement officials flouting their mandates to humiliate, degrade and harm people. While those who do not comply with lockdown regulations should be held accountable within the bounds of the law, the senseless torture and killing of civilians is indefensible.
“This ruling will not make up for the untimely death of Collins Khosa, but we trust it will bring his family and loved ones a step closer to justice.”
Marais pointed out he lodged a complaint with the Military Ombud requesting an independent investigation into the death of the Alexandra resident.
“I trust the investigation will be conducted openly and transparently and all involved will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.