Notes from underground

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Archive for the category “crime”

Disgrace

DisgraceDisgrace by J.M. Coetzee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book won the Booker Prize, so someone must think that it’s great literature. I’m not so sure. I nearly stopped reading after the second chapter. I just didn’t connect with any of the characters.

It’s about a university professor who seduces a student. Her father complains and he is asked to resign and does. He goes to stay with his daughter in the Eastern Cape, and doesn’t really connect with her.

I didn’t connect with any of the characters, and their motivations seemed strange to me. Or perhaps their actions seemed to be unmotivated. I found the ending very sad.

That was about all I could say in my review on Good Reads, but I read it at a time when I was seeing a lot of posts about “farm attacks” and “farm murders” in social media. One of the scenes in the book is a “farm attack”, which which seems to link with what I was reading elsewhere, but that goes beyond what the book says, so I’ll say more about that aspect of it here.

One of the stories was this: Zuma should face the International Criminal court charges over murder of farmers: former Miss World Anneline Kriel:

Former Miss World Anneline Kriel has suggested President Jacob Zuma face charges of crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court for failing to protect farmers in South Africa.

Her call‚ which includes the deployment of the military to protect vulnerable farmers‚ comes after a string of farm murders and the release of quarterly crime statistics‚ which revealed that there had been 116 more murders than the same period last year.

And I think, how stupid can she get. Zuma has many faults, but he did not give orders to criminals to murder farmers, as George Bush did to his air force to bomb Iraq, or Tony Blair and Bill Clinton gave orders for their air forces to bomb Yugoslavia. If they weren’t charged in the ICC why should Zuma be?

The increasing bombardment of racist propaganda about “farm attacks” as “white genocide”, seems calculated, by its very irrationality and its racist assumptions, to make one lose sympathy for the victims of farm attacks. The propaganda tends to create the impression that the victims of farm attacks were themselves as racist as the propagandists and that that they therefore somehow deserved what they got.

I wonder, why this singling out of one occupational group, and I want to say “all lives matter”, not just farmers’ lives, but then we are also bombarded with constant propaganda from a different quarter that it is wrong, evil and wicked to think that all lives matter.

But then I think about my own personal experience. As far as I can recall, I knew four people who were murdered. They weren’t close friends, but they were people I had known and talked to. And three of the four were murdered in farm attacks. The fourth was murdered in a town attack. Those are the ones I can recall now. Neil Alcock, Theo Vosloo and Jan van Beima were murdered in farm attacks; Fritz Bophela was murdered in a town attack (a drive-by shooting). So among the people I have known who have been murdered, farm attacks outnumber others by 3:1. But all of them were pre-Zuma, and that is just my experience. Other people may also know people who were murdered, but possibly in different circumstances.

And that brings me back to the book.

It did not make racist propaganda about the farm attacks, such as one sees on social media. But nevertheless there was a racist subtext. The only black people in the story are described in a racist way, not directly; it is a subtext, not the main text, but it does tend to leave the reader with the impression that all black people are like this.

It is also from the viewpoint of the protagonist, and the protagonist’s viewpoint is not necessarily the author’s view. It is sometimes too easy to think that it is — I’ve seen people attributing views to Dostoevsky through quotes from his novels, but they were quotes from his characters, not from Dostoevsky himself. So it is dangerous to attribute the views of a fictional character to the author. Part of the skill of a novelist is to create believable characters with their own views.

Nevertheless, at the end of the book, the reader, or at least this reader, is left with the impression of black people that “give them an inch and they’ll take a yard”. That’s a common white racist stereotype. Yes, it’s the view of one character, but it’s also the impression created by the book as a whole.

Perhaps it did not strike the people who awarded the Booker prize like that, but that is how it struck me.

 

 

 

 

Tshwane burns: Mbeki’s unheeded warning

Back in 2007 we listened to President Thabo Mbeki’s speech at the national  conference of the ANC at Polokwane. We listened to it avidly all the way home all the way home from church on Sunday. It seemed much better than most political speeches, not full of platitudes. Now the Rand Daily Mail website has republished it, and I quote one of the bits that made a vivid impression on me at the time, so vivid that I can still remember where I was at the time, driving north on the N1 passing the mint and driving under the old Johannesburg/Pretoria Road bridge Mbeki’s chilling warning in 2007: A virus is eating up the ANC from the inside | Politics | RDM:

I would like to cite a vitally important observation our Secretary General made in his Organisational Report to our 51st National Conference, five years ago.

He said: “We have also reported to the NGC (held in 2000), on the challenges being in power has on the structures of the movement. We found that the issues dividing the leadership of some of our provinces are not of a political nature, but have mainly revolved around access to resources, positioning themselves or others to access resources, dispensing patronage and in the process using organisational structures to further these goals.

“This often lies at the heart of conflicts between (ANC) constitutional and governance structures, especially at local level and is reflected in contestations around lists, deployment and the internal elections process of the movement. These practices tarnish the image and effectiveness of the movement.

“The limited political consciousness (among some of our members) has impacted negatively on our capacity to root out corrupt and divisive elements among ourselves. For the movement to renew itself as a revolutionary movement, we have to develop specific political, organisational and administrative measures to deal with such destructive elements.”

Nelson Mandela also drew our attention to this challenge when he opened our 50th National Conference in 1997. Among other things he said: “One of these negative features is the emergence of careerism within our ranks. Many among our members see their membership of the ANC as a means to advance their personal ambitions to attain positions of power and access to resources for their own individual gratification.

“Accordingly, they work to manipulate the movement to create the conditions for their success.”

Far from heeding the warning, the ANC national conference rejected Thabo Mbeki, ended his presidential term early, and elected as its new president Jacob Zuma, who encouraged the very tendencies that Mbeki had warned against.

The problem Mbeki warned against has manifested itself in the 2016 municipal elections, where people protesting against the official ANC candidates have sometimes become violent, and the protests have been accompanied by the burning of buses and other vehicles, and the looting of shops, especially those owned by foreigners.

News24 reports burning and looting in Tshwane townships

News24 reports burning and looting in Tshwane townships

As one news report put it Looting, burning of buses continues in some Tshwane townships – As it happened | News24:

Protests that began on Monday evening over the announcement of Thoko Didiza as the ANC’s Tshwane mayoral candidate continued throughout Tuesday. The situation became so volatile that by the end of the working day, commuters were left stranded as buses and taxis lessened their services in fear of violence.

How all this happened in the case of the City of Tshwane is spelt out in this article TRAINSPOTTER: The murder of an Ordinary Member, the anointing of Thoko Didiza, and the battle for the soul of Tshwane | Daily Maverick:

The story goes like this: ordinary branch members had handed over a list of three names to the Regional Executive Committee, which, in order to fulfil its constitutional obligations, duly handed the list over to the PEC. The committee perused the list, and found that Sputla’s name was noticeably absent, while deputy mayor Mapiti Matsena’s name was written in day-glo orange. (Not the day-glo orange part.) As for the other two members, the ANC was keeping shtum. Regardless, none of the names was acceptable, because signing off on the list would have meant entrenching the factional divide, resulting in the upgrade of a long simmering conflict into a full-blown nuclear war.

Shitting themselves, the PEC axed the list.

Time to sniff around for a parachute candidate. The name floating around Tshwane on Sunday belonged to a member of parliament named Thoko Didiza, a former Mbeki protege turned Cabinet minister who submitted her resignation to the ANC’s new president in the fateful year of 2008. (See: battles, factional.) She nonetheless regained her parliamentarian job in 2014, was well liked, and had a general air of competence about her. According to the ANC, she even harboured vague ties to Tshwane, which is to say that she was born in Durban.

Presto: the perfect fly-in candidate.

The notion of Didiza shifting resources out of the hands of those who had semi-patiently waited for them greatly displeased ordinary members of the regional structures, many of whom were gathered outside the Tshwane Events Centre on Sunday night. Shots were fired. Bullets hit male human beings. Several were injured, one “passed away”, to use the ANC’s euphemistic term for internecine murder.

The whole article is worth a read. It describes exactly how we got into the position that Mbeki warned against. The big question is, how do we get out of the hole that Zuma’s ANC has dug for us?

Around the time of the previous municipal elections in 2011 there were “service delivery” protests in various parts of the country. We went on holiday at the time, and passed through several towns where such protests had taken place, and in some cases the reason for the protests was obvious. One of the towns was Balfour, where the roads were all in poor repair (and they still were last year, when we passed through it again).

Back in 2011 the remedy seemed obvious — revive the civic organisations that flourished in the 1980s, and put up candidates who would drive the under-performing councillors out. That would be far more effective than singing songs and burning tyres in the hope that someone else would notice and do something.

But this is something different. These are not popular protests of ordinary people dissatisfied with underperforming city councillors. If the Daily Maverick article is right, these are rival factions fighting for the right to underperform in order to be able to skim off the cream for themselves. This is rival factions within the ANC protecting their own vested interests.

And if that is the case, it won’t be easy to stop it.

Twenty-five years ago there were turf wars in KZN between the ANC and Inkatha in the run-up to the first democratic elections in 1994, and more than 700 people were killed. It stopped when Inkatha agreed at the last minute to take part in the elections, and its leader was given a role in the Government of National Unity. Back in those days the ANC was led by people who wanted to liberate the country, and part of that was the desire for ubuntu, to get the people working together and sharing power to build the nation. The aim was to exclude no one, and include as many people as possible.

But when the ultimate object is to gain power to control resources for one’s own benefit, then there can be no compromises for the sake of the greater good, because the main object is not the greater good, but the good of a small group or faction. The aim is not to be inclusive, as it was back in 1994, but rather to be exclusive, because the more there are participating, the less there is available for those who want to control it for their own benefit. And it was those who wanted it that way who had gradually infiltrated and wormed their way into ANC branch structures who got rid of Mbeki. I doubt if many of them played any part in the liberation struggle.

And people who encourage the destruction of municipal property are hardly suitable candidates to be elected to look after it — people who make comments like this, for example SUNDAY TIMES – ‘We will burn the whole of Pretoria if needs be’: an ANC regional executive committee source‚ who asked not to be named‚ appeared to contradict this‚ saying: “This new mayor is being imposed on us. We didn’t ask for her and we wont accept her. We will burn the whole of Pretoria if needs be.”

Can you imagine him presiding as mayor over a council meeting held under an awning in the gardens next to the burnt-out shell of the city hall? Is that really what he wants? Is that the sort of person anyone would want to vote for?

As for what one can do about it, I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is to rotate the municipal councillors and mayors by voting for a different party in each election, so that they don’t stay in office long enough to get their snouts in the trough. Vote for the EFF or the DA, and hope that together they will outnumber the ANC, but that neither has an absolute majority. That way they’ll be watching each other like hawks for the slightest misstep, and that would be to the benefit of ordinary citizens.

 

Mass killings by lone gunmen

Everyone and their auntie seem to have been discussing the latest mass murder in Orlando in the USA, apparently the biggest yet, and speculating about the motives of the killer.

I wasn’t going to comment on it, as it seemed that everything that could be said had been said, except that three days later it seems that two obvious questions still weren’t being asked, or at least I hadn’t heard them being asked.

Most of the questions seem to have been on the lines of: Was he a member of a terrorist group? What radicalised him? Did he hate gay people? Was he gay?

Some have asked whether he had received terrorist training because he shot so many people in such a short time. But the fact that he had been a security guard should answer that. Most security guards are trained in the use of firearms, and anyone with an automatic or semi-automatic rifle in a crowded nightclub would have no difficulty in hitting someone.

He was reported as having visited the nightclub several times before, and that, to me, raises the first question that no one seemed to be asking: Had he quarrelled with anyone there? Had he quarrelled with the management? Did he bear a grudge against someone, perhaps because of something that had happened on a previous visit?

What radicalised him?

Could it have been reading something like this?

Afghanistan 2015 onwards

Most recent strike: June 8 2016

Total strikes: 324-329
Total killed: 1,546-2,044
Civilians killed: 75-103
Children killed: 4-18
Injured: 163-169

We are told that his parents came from Afghanistan, so an obvious question to ask would be whether any of his relatives had been killed or wounded since the American invasion in 2002, as a result of American military action. But if anyone has been asking it, I haven’t seen it in any of the media reports. Either it has not occurred to the media to ask it, or else they are keeping very quiet about it.

I know that it is very politically incorrect in America right now to say that “All lives matter”. American lives matter, yes. But Afghan lives? Not so much.

Yet people do get worked up about such things even when they are not directly involved, and I’ve seen 2nd generation children of Cypriot immigrants marching to the Turkish embassy chanting “Turkish troops out of Cyprus” even though the Turkish troops went into Cyprus before many of them were born.

I’ve sometimes marched with them myself, because I think the Turkish invasion of Cyprus was a bad idea, just as I think the US invasion of Afghanistan was a bad idea.

In most countries that’s as far as it goes, an annual protest march, like the French commemorating Bastille Day, or South Africans commemorating Youth Day.

But only in America can someone who is worked up about such things just walk into a shop and buy a military semi-automatic weapon with a high rate of fire and act out his fantasies of revenge.

sig_sauer_mcx

The answer to these questions may be no.

No, he didn’t have relatives killed in Afghanistan.

No, he hadn’t quarrelled with anyone at the nightclub.

But it’s strange that nobody seems to be asking them.

 

 

The Anatomy of Crime

Looking at arts, culture and entertainment in Gauteng

I don’t read much crime fiction so the work of Val McDermid was not known to me.  I started reading, Forensics, The Anatomy of Crime, as an exercise in Criminology.  From the outset I was stunned at how readable the work was.  It was only then that I realised that Val McDermid is a practised and experienced genius in the field of writing entertainingly about crime.

Forensics

So, here we o find her engaged in explaining the work of forensic scientists to lay people. Along the way she explains the history of each forensic field from the first recorded autopsy (that of the body of Julius Caesar) to the Great Fire of London and modern advances which allow crimes to be solved years after the case has officially been closed.

She works through twelve chapters, all equally interesting.  Theintegrity of the crime scene, fire investigation, entomology (probably best not to…

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Anger and outrage

Yesterday morning we were driving around running errands and in between stops we heard snatches of an interview on the car radio. They were discussing some particularly horrible murders in which the victims had been beaten and mutilated, and they were described as “hate crimes”.

Perhaps this was one of the cases they were speaking about Police continue search for suspects in Vanderbijlpark rape, murder:

Gauteng police say they are searching for an unknown number of suspects involved in the rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman in Vanderbijlpark.

Her mutilated body was found at a nearby school last month.

While gay rights groups believe the woman was attacked because she was lesbian, police say the motive for the murder is not yet known.

I’m not sure how they can search for an “unknown” number of suspects — either you suspect someone or you don’t. But presumably if they track them down they will arrest the unknown number of people to charge with murder.

The radio interviewer was asking about whether the crime they were discussing was a “hate crime”, and the person being interviewed was talking about such crimes, and saying that there were many of them, and referred to several instances.

Then the interviewer asked whether we South Africans were angry enough, and whether we had enough outrage, clearly expecting the answer to be that we were not angry enough, and that we did not have enough outrage, and that we should have more.

SilouanAnd the incongruity of it struck me. Here they were discussing crimes that were clearly motivated by anger and outrage. “Hate crimes”, by definition, are characterised by hatred, anger and rage. The mutilation of the bodies, and the brutality of the beatings the victims had received clearly pointed to great anger — and here was the interviewer apparently calling for more. Hair of the dog that bit you!

People are tweeting their hatred of other people. and, as Tom Lehrer put it, “There are people who do not love their fellow man, and I hate people like that.”

The problem with us in South Africa is not that we don’t have enough anger and outrage, but that we have far too much.

 

Charleston massacre: a mirror of our conflicted society?

Last week, as most people will know, a man called Dylann Roof was arrested and charged with murder for shooting several people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, USA.

The killings and the reaction to them, show something of the strange kind of society we live in. A comment that a friend posted on Facebook seems to encapsulate it:

Charleston killer says “I almost didn’t go through with it, because they were so nice to me.” It is very hard to know what emotion is appropriate when one hears this. I wish Roof could have been exposed to these parishioners of Emanuel a bit earlier in his life, in which case we might never have been reading about him at all.

Lord, have mercy!

Mass murders of this sort seem to have become so common in the USA that they no longer make front-page news, or have an impact on social media in South Africa. The news of Jacob Zuma’s question time in parliament and the Roman Pope’s encyclical on the environment seemed to provoke much more comment.

RoofDThe killing in South Carolina did spark off some discussion in South Africa because the man accused of the murders, Dylann Roof, appeared in a picture sporting two flags that represent racist regimes of the past — South Africa before 1994, and Ian Smith’s UDI Rhodesia. That seems to indicate that he regarded white racism in southern Africa as a source of inspiration. So that throws the spotlight on South African white racism too.

The question of why he did it, and how you describe it has become a talking point. Was he a terrorist? Was he a lone loony? Was he mentally disturbed? Was it a “hate crime”? These questions, and the answers that people suggest, become a mirror of our society.

In South Africa we might say that he went te kere.

“Going te kere” is perhaps a strange expression, because it can mean anything from a parent giving a teenager a bollocking for staying out too late to mass murder. But “going te kere” means snapping, losing one’s temper, doing one’s nut. And the comment attributed to him at the beginning of this article indicates that he didn’t actually go te kere. He didn’t lose control. He had to force himself  to carry out the killings that he had planned to do beforehand. The people were so nice to him that he had to deliberately suppress the temptation to be diverted from the task he had set himself, to repay love with hatred. In that sense, yes, it was a “hate crime”. But if that is so, it was not a crime inspired by an emotion of hate, but rather by a cold calculating effort of will, a dedication to an ideology of racial hatred.

Does this make his actions those of a social misfit, a lone wolf, someone so at odds with the values of society that he must be seen as a social menace, to be locked away?

I think that in many ways he is a reflection of the values of society. US President Barack Obama does the same thing as Dylann Roof is accused of doing, not as a once off attempt, but every week, sending out drones to kill people. He is not going te kere. It is a cold, calculated deliberate act. It is something that permeates society from top to bottom.

If we dismiss Dylann Roof’s actions as the acts of a madman, a social misfit, someone mentally disturbed, we can comfort ourselvs with the thought that we aren’t like that. There are people like us and there are people like him, and we are better off without people like him. But that is just the kind of thinking that drove him to do what he is alleged to have done.

All we can really say is, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

GunCont2Such events also seem to provoke strange American rants about gun control. Graphics like those on the right start appearing on Facebook and other places on the web, and people rant about the evils of gun control.

I must confess that I don’t understand their point, and especially the point of images like the one of smashed cars. One would assume, from these pictures, that they think traffic control is as evil as gun control, that they are asking for the repeal of all traffic laws. I suppose the difference is that the US Constitution doesn’t guarantee people the right to own and drive cars.

GunCont1But if you don’t object to traffic control, why object to gun control? They are actually very similar. I simply cannot understand why people apparently put up with one, and strenuously object to the other.

In a way that is incidental to the question of mass murder, except that whenever there is an incident of mass murder by shooting, the gun control freaks seem to come out of the woodwork. And in this case it is perhaps stranger still, because it seems that one of the charges against Dylann Roof is that he was in illegal possession of a firearm, which suggests that there is already a certain amount of gun control, at least in Chartleston, South Carolina.

This event is not something exceptional. It is something that the President of the USA does regularly and frequently with drones strikes. It is something that members of our South African Police Service did at Marikana, showing how little we have been transformed since the time of the apartheid state that Dylann Roof apparently admired. Transformation is something we talk about, but don’t often see.

So these murders are not the exceptional acts of a madman; they are a reflection of fallen human nature, a nature that we all share. And if that were the end of the story, there would be little hope for any of us. When we look at Dylann Roof, we cannot condemn him as an exception, and distance ourselves from him as if we were not like that. We pray before receiving holy communion, recalling that our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, “of whom I am first.” I am the first, not Dylann Roof, not Barack Obama, not Vladimir Putin, not Jacob Zuma, not Adolf Hitler. I am the first.

But fallen human nature is not the last word, and we can catch a glimpse of transformed human nature in the response of the families and survivors of the church shooting A Lesson on Forgiveness from the Families of the Charleston Shooting Victims- ‘We Forgive Him’:

The victim’s kins [sic] spoke to the killer and did something that most people would not have been able to do less than 48 hours of their loved ones murder- which was forgive Dylann.

Viewers watched as one, by one, sisters, children and grandchildren of all victims extended an olive branch from the depths of their souls, while they each forgave their late loved ones’ killer

Lord have mercy.

What hidden lies: a South African whodunit

What Hidden Lies (Persy Jonas #1)What Hidden Lies by Michele Rowe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A South African whodunit.

I’ve read lots of British and Swedish whodunits. I’ve read several whodunits set in the USA and Norway, and a few set in Denmark, Greece and Turkey. But it doesn’t seem to be a popular genre with South African writers. So I enjoyed this one, and not just because it was set in South Africa, but because it was a pretty good specimen of the genre.

The protagonist, Detective Sergeant (or is it Constable? she seems to get promoted without explanation in the first couple of chapters) Persy Jonas, seems like a fairly ordinary person — not a poet, not an aristocrat, not alcoholic or going through a traumatic divorce, not a rogue cop perpetually on the verge of being fired for drunkenness, but brought back in the nick of time because no one else is such a brilliant detective. Persy (short for Persephone) Jonas is an ordinary person and an ordinary cop. It makes it more real, somehow.

Of course she has her problems; which cop, real or fictional, doesn’t? She has problems at home — domestic violence3 in the family. She has problems coming to terms with things in her past. It’s just kind of refreshing that those problems don’t include booze and/or divorce, or perpetual disciplinary problems with superiors related to insubordination.

And of course there are problems at work. There are problems of racism, sexism and corruption, rivalries and personality clashes. But they don’t take over the story.

In addition, in many whodunits one gets the impression that murder is the only crime the police ever investigate, so the stories seem somehow unreal. In this book there is a murder investigation, but it is sandwiched in between burglary, theft, and looking for a lost dog. That makes it feel more convincing as a police procedural, somehow.

There are a few editorial slip-ups — Persy’s rank being one of them — but they don’t detract from the story, so I’ll still give it five stars. I think Persy Jonas could become one of my favourite fictional detectives.

View all my reviews

The failure of transformation

In the 1990s, in the lead up to, and immediately following our first democratic elections in 1994, there was a lot of talk of the need for transformation. We needed to transform the institutions of the old apartheid society so that they became more appropriate for our new ideals of democracy and freedom. One of the institutions that was most in need of transformation was the police.

There were some attempts at transformation, symbolic, but significant. Instead of being called a police “force”, it became a police “service”. The old military ranks were abolished — generals, brigadiers, colonels, majors, captains and the like, and replaced by ones more appropriate for civil police — inspectors and such.

But now it seems that these changes were merely cosmetic. Underneath the new terminology, the police were not really transformed, but were simply the old monster dressed up in more politically correct terminology. And in the last few months there have been several scandals that have been broadcast around the world that seem to demonstrate the truth of this. These scandals include:

  • The lead detective in the murder case against Olympic and Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius was removed from the investigation last week when it emerged he was facing seven attempted murder charges for allegedly opening fire on a minibus full of passengers.
  • Police shot dead 34 striking workers at a platinum mine in August last year – the deadliest security incident since apartheid ended in 1994.
  • The video footage and the man’s death raised fresh concerns about police brutality in a country where more than 1,200 people a year die while in custody.

via Man dragged by South Africa police dies in custody – Yahoo! News.

An old friend, now a retired Anglican bishop in the UK, who used to live in South Africa but was forced out by the apartheid regime, recently wrote:

S Africa has been much in our news recently.  The Pistorius business has been extraordinarily prominent in our media,  including the BBC,  day after day main headline.  It has, among other things,  provoked the attached piece of gloom,  in one of our most respected papers.  I don’€™t like it much,  as it seems to depend too much on innuendo.  But today’€™s news about the police & a taxidriver does seem to confirm that things are bad in that department.

What can I say?

When one reads the news, especially reports involving the police, it seems, well, so pre-1994.

I’m not surprised at the prominence of the Pistorius business. In Oscar Pistorius we in South Africa have our very own O.J. Simpson, whose trial for the murder of his wife became an international cause célèbre in the media a few years ago. even though the sport he played meant that until his trial, he was little known outside the USA. Every nation in the world takes part in the Olympic Games, however, so Oscar Pistorius’s trial will garner even more public attention. Sporting celebrities charged with murder do seem to attract media attention, and when attention is focused on such cases, the police need to be very careful with evidence, which they seem to have been careless about in both cases. Sporting celebrities charged with murder tend to undergo trial by media. O.J. Simpson at least escaped trial by Twitter.

Daveyton taxi driber arrested for parking offence and dragged behind a police van to the police station, where he died

Daveyton taxi driver arrested for parking offence and dragged behind a police van to the police station, where he died

The Oscar Pistorius case is sub judice, and so I don’t want to say anything about the merits of the case, but the police handling of it raises several questions, one of which is the police’s handling of taxi drivers, which also came up in the other instance mentioned by Yahoo! News.

Like many South African drivers, I sometimes with the police would take more action against some taxi drivers, who are often a law unto themselves, turning right from the left-hand lane, and vice versa, or driving straight from a turning lane, forcing their way into the traffic. But what I have in mind by “police action” is a ticket and a fine (not a bribe), not a death penalty without a trial.

The behaviour of the Daveyton police looks too much like the defenestrations in the bad old says of apartheid. It looks like the same police culture, untransformed.

What has changed? What has been transformed?

Are we any better off than we were in the bad old days of apartheid?

Yes, I think we are better off.

Things may be bad, but they are not as bad as they were back then.

Consider this, for example Acting police minister welcomes Daveyton cop suspension – Times LIVE:

Acting Police Minister Siyabonga Cwele welcomed on Friday the suspension of police officers allegedly involved in the death of a taxi driver.

“All police officers have a duty to fight crime and those who are not worthy of wearing our badge and uniform, must know that they have no place within SAPS [SA Police Service],” he said in a statement.

Can you imagine B.J. Vorster saying anything like that when he was Minister of Justice, Police and Prisons back in the 1960s?

Back then, if anyone dared to criticise the police for such actions, Vorster would publicly denouce them as unpatriotic communists and liberalists trying to besmirch the good name of our noble and upright police force.

In 1960 Philp Kgosana led a protest march of 30000 people into the middle of Cape Town, a few days after 69 people had been killed at Sharpeville. Philip Kgosana met and discussed the matter with a senior policeman, and after their speeches the people all marched peacefully home again. And that was the end of that policeman’s career. He got no more promotions, because the members of the cabinet wanted another bloodbath like Sharpeville and he didn’t give it to them.

Ok, a Facebook friend of mine takes a somewhat more cynical view. He wrote this morning:

So the police drag a taxi driver after hand cuffing him to the back of a police van. This is what happens when police are deployed by the ruling class to enforce and defend the most unequal society on the planet, to defend a cheap labour economy that dehumanises and criminalises the working class and the poor. This is the fruits of neo-liberalism!

I think he has a point, but, again, Vorster never said anything like this Zuma Calls Daveyton Cop Footage ‘Horrific’ – MSN ZA News:

“The visuals of the incident are horrific, disturbing and unacceptable,” Zuma said in a statement.

“No human being should be treated in that manner.”

He was referring to a video, taken by an eyewitness, showing police officers dragging Mozambican national Mido Macia, 27, behind a police van on Tuesday.

Macia was later found dead in the holding cells of the Daveyton police station.

Zuma condemned the death. He said the police were required to operate within the confines of the law in executing their duties. He extended condolences to Macia’s family and directed Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa to investigate.

There may not be much transformation in what the police do, but there is a transformation in what people in government feel they ought to say publicly about it. That must count for something, mustn’t it?

Peace officers who shoot to kill

In two quite unrelated discussions, my attention has been drawn to the fact that police officers who kill members of the public are rarely held to account.

In one discussion, on the alt.usage.english newsgroup, someone remarked that in some places the police regard walking as a suspicious activity. Normal people go by car. While some thought that this kind of thing only happened in America, I experienced it three times in the UK — the police stopped me when I was walking, and wanted to know where I was going and why. On two occasions it was late at night, and I was walking home from work — from Brixton bus garage where I had finished a late shift driving buses, and I was wearing my London Transport uniform when the police stopped me. Perhaps British criminals go around disguised as bus drivers. The third occasion was when I was going for a walk in the Surrey countryside in broad daylight.

The conversation moved on to the police shooting people on suspicion. Many people recalled the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot by London police seven years ago because they thought he was someone else that they suspected. That shooting shocked many people at the time and got a lot of media publicity all around the world. But it turns out that it was not an isolated incident. It was not something rare and exceptional, but something that happens all the time.

From Britain comes this story: Police have shot dead 33 people since 1995 – only two marksmen have ever been named | Mail Online

The identities of just two police officers involved in 33 fatal shootings have been made public in the last 15 years, a Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed.

Since 1995 a total of 55 officers have opened fire on and killed members of the public, but in only two cases have their names been revealed.

And from the USA comes this one: Police Officer Who Shot at Amadou Diallo to Get Gun Back – NYTimes.com

More than 13 years after the police shooting of Amadou Diallo, Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has agreed to restore a service weapon to one of the four New York City officers involved, a decision that Mr. Diallo’s mother characterized as a betrayal.

Police shooting striking miners at Marikana, August 2012

So when we read in the news about the shooting of striking miners at Marikana and are shocked by it, we should perhaps remember that this kind of behaviour by police is not unusual, and that it happens in other countries too, even in Britain, where the police are normally thought to be unarmed.

Spectacular incidents that make headlines, like Marikana and the gunning down of Jean Charles de Menzez at a London tube station, are thought to be exceptional. Though they are scary, we take comfort in the thought that they are exceptoional.

What is even more scary, though, is that such incidents are not exceptional, but are almost routine, and, in Britain at least, the police can shoot people with impunity, behind the cover of anonymity. Britain may have abolished capital punishment, but carrying a table leg in a shopping bag is apparently a capital offence.

It’s a bit like a cricket match. There are no spectacular boundaries, no sixes and fours, but by running ones and twos the batsmen can soon build up a formidable score. There may not be many Marikanas, but when you add up the ones and twos, it’s even more scary, because it looks as though it’s routine.

Police state, anyone?

Gun culture – Child killed at creche

The gun culture kills again — is a cell phone worth a child’s life?

The Times – Child killed at creche:

Police spokesman Captain John Maluleke said yesterday’s killing was triggered when a 15-year-old boy was robbed of his cellphone by an 21-year-old man at the Steytler Square park in Westdene, off Park Lane North and Fourth Avenue, while walking home.

“The schoolboy ran home and called his father, who was armed with a gun, and they drove around the area looking for his assailant. After spotting the robber, the father chased him and a shot was fired, accidentally hitting the child at the Sunbeam Creche.

“The 47-year-old father [of the robbery victim] has been charged with murder. The robber was caught by police and will be charged with robbery,” Maluleke said. Both men are expected to appear in court tomorrow.

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