A total of 257 people died in police custody in 2010/2011, according to the Independent Complains Directorate (ICD), down from 294 the previous year.
This emerged in response to a parliamentary question posed by D J Stubbe of the Democratic Alliance. Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa said that statistics for 2011/2012 have not been released yet as they are still undergoing a verification process.
According data provided by Mthethwa, in 2009-10 a total of 97 cases were related to injuries sustained in custody, 104 cases were related to injuries sustain prior to custody and 93 cases were due to natural causes.
In 2010-11 at total of 64 cases were related to injuries sustained in custody, 80 cases were related to injuries sustain prior to custody and 113 were due to natural causes.
Most deaths occurred in KwaZulu-Natal in 2009/2010, which recorded 61 fatalities, followed by Gauteng (60) and the Eastern Cape (37).
Meanwhile, deaths in custody as a result of police actions or involvement dropped by 7% from 860 to 797 during the 2010/2011 period, according to the ICD. During this period, the ICD received 5 869 cases for investigation and of these, 797 were notifications of deaths in police custody as a result of police actions.
A further 102 cases were on domestic violence non-compliance matters; 2 493 were on allegations of criminal offences and 2 477 were on allegations of misconduct alleging contravention of police standing orders and regulations.
Of the 2 493 complaints, 70% were related to police brutality, namely common assault, assault (grievous bodily harm) and attempted murder. Allegations of torture accounted for 4% of allegations of criminal offences, whereas rape cases accounted for 2%.
Last year the ICD made 501 recommendations for prosecution to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions.
In a statement on its website, the South African Police Service (SAPS) said that “each and every death in police custody or death as a result of police action by the SAPS is a matter of concern to the SAPS.
“It should be borne in mind that the general public consider even incidents of suicide or death from natural causes in custody to be unacceptable. These figures also affect the total for deaths in custody, thereby creating a negative image of the SAPS.
“Some of these deaths have been found to have occurred as a result of negligence and wrongful action by members of the Service. This kind of conduct is unacceptable and it is the responsibility of each and every member of the SAPS to do his/her utmost to prevent these type of incidents.”