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The Voices of the People: Police Brutality in South Africa

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2020 was a year for the history books. With the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the myriad of deaths, and the fight against racial injustice 2020 will not be easily forgotten. The pandemic continues to thrive with over 2.5 million deaths and the discovery of a new variant that is more lethal and transferrable, which calls for continued city closures, halting of travel, and economic hardships. The ramifications of the pandemic have highlighted injustices and disparities in the world as people are more confined to their homes giving them more time to take a look at what is going on around them.

The Black Lives Matter movement that surged all across the United States and internationally over the summer helped lend a voice to other countries suffering from similar issues of police brutality. One of the countries that stands out is South Africa. South Africa like the United States has a history of racial injustice and segregation. Whereas the United States stems from slavery and Jim Crow laws, South Africa’s stems from Apartheid that was brought about after the National Party (predominantly White) in South Africa came to power in 1948. Apartheid literally translates to apartness in the language of Afrikaans.

Apartheid led to the enforcement of segregation policies that helped to create a huge economic divide between the wealthy Whites and the poor Blacks. Even though Apartheid ended in the early 1990s there is still very much an economic and racial divide that is still seen, especially in police interactions with the public, where police brutality runs rampant and is often times directed at people of color. The South African Police Service (SAPS) is responsible for three times more deaths per capita than American police officers. South African political leadership has also been known for condoning, encouraging, and sometimes congratulating the violence of the police.

The current police minister was quoted in 2009 as saying “shoot to kill” and “worry later”, which lends power and credence to the police officers that abuse their authority. While the police and politicians condone police violence/brutality there will be no moves to address or fix the situation. One example of recent police brutality that gained national attention was the shooting and killing of Nathanial Julius, who was unarmed and also suffered from down syndrome. Initially the police tried to say he was shot in accidental cross fire from an altercation with a gang. In the end three police officers were arrested and charged with murder in the case. As of yet it appears that the officers have not been convicted of the murders and not much coverage has been done on the case since the arrest of the police officers.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

Much of the arrest of the police officers was media driven and related. As with the death of George Floyd that spurred on the Black Lives Matter protest, the death of Nathaniel spurred on the Colored Lives Matter protest in South Africa. The voice of the people, that police often try to suppress, helps lead on and spur momentum in social/political reforms while adding accountability for the actions of police and people in positions of power. But are the voices of the people enough?

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