Killing of Protesters in South Africa Highlights Pattern of Excessive Force
Freedom House is alarmed by the clashes between South African police and demonstrating miners that resulted in 34 dead and 78 injured and calls for thorough investigation into what appears to be a disproportional use of force against civilians. The incident underscores the need to address the pervasive use of excessive force by police in South Africa.
On August 16, police opened fire on protesters that were charging police lines wielding machetes and other weapons at the Marikana Platinum Mine in the northern part of the country. The protesters, who were primarily made up of members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, were striking for increased wages and better working conditions from the mine’s owner Lonmin plc. Thursday’s incident followed several days of violent strikes during which 10 people were killed, including two police officers, and 259 people were arrested. While details surrounding the incident are still developing, critics of the police’s handling of the situation accuse them of using excessive force against the protesters. A spokesman from the South Africa Police has defended the police’s action, claiming the officers fired in self-defense.
“This incident is undoubtedly a great tragedy, and we are saddened for the families of all of those who were killed or injured,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “While police must certainly have the right to defend themselves against violent civilians, the outcome of this event suggests that more force was used than was necessary to control the situation and should be investigated.”
Although South Africa remains one of the few “Free” countries in sub-Saharan Africa, it continues to grapple with several serious challenges to democracy and human rights. According to the most recent State Department Human Rights report, the use of lethal and excessive force by the police continues to be one of the principal human rights concerns in South Africa, with civil society criticizing what they call the police’s “shoot to kill” policy. Over the past 5 years, South Africa has also seen declines in the rule of law and government accountability, and alarming increases in corruption and reported incidents of human rights abuses, especially within the country’s mining sector.
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