Mthokozisi Ntumba was killed on March 10 last year by rubber bullets fired at close range by members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
Ntumba’s death was not a freak incident. Many people have died due to the use of rubber bullets by the police in South Africa. Arbitrary, unwarranted, or overuse of rubber bullets by police, as well as private security guards, is common.
After the assassination of Ntumba, SAPS involved to change its national instructions for the use of rubber bullets to minimize unnecessary injuries and deaths. But nothing seems to have been done about it.
Ntumba died shortly after being shot while leaving doctors’ rooms in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. He had a bag of medicine in his hand. The doctor who cared for him on the sidewalk outside the clinic said he had “a wound on his face and another round open wound in the stomach area on his left side”.
He was shot while SAPS public order units responded to… protests by Wits students near the university.
Other people in the area at that time too reported being shot by SAPS members without any justification.
The SAPS members allegedly involved in the shooting are: reported immediately after driving away from the scene of the incident.
Ntumba, who was 35 years old, was an urban planner in the Department of Human Settlements in the city of Tshwane. He was married and had four children.
In a eulogy at a memorial service held by the city shortly after his death, then-mayor Mpho Mehlape-Zimu of Human Settlements said described him as “a man committed to changing the lives of those around him”.
Deaths and injuries caused by the use of rubber bullets by the police
Rubber bullets fired from a shotgun are potentially lethal. Available data indicate a consistent pattern of fatalities associated with the use of these weapons in recent years.
When it receives reports of deaths related to police use of rubber bullets, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) records them as “shot with a service firearm” during crowd control incidents under the “deaths resulting from police action” category. .
In the nine years from April 2012 to March 2021, there have been 91 such crowd management incidents. One of these was the Marikana massacre in August 2012, in which 34 men, most of them striking miners, were shot with live ammunition, not rubber bullets. However, live ammunition is generally not used by police while monitoring protests and it is likely that most of the 91 fatal crowd management incidents between 2012 and 2021 used rubber bullets.
In addition to deaths, rubber bullets can cause serious injuries, including permanent loss of vision. In South Africa, incidents have been reported in South Africa in which people were blinded in one eye by rubber bullets 2016† 2020and 2021†
The likely death toll and the indiscriminate way the SAPS uses this ammunition suggests that thousands of people over the years have likely been hit by rubber bullets fired by the SAPS.
While the potential lethality of these weapons has been recognized for many years, SAPS has never established clear standards for their use.
SAPS National instructions about the use of rubber bullets are vague. They state that rubber bullets should only be used “to disperse a crowd in extreme conditions, when less powerful methods have proven ineffective”.
There are no regulations prohibiting rubber bullets from being fired at close range, warning that aiming at the face is prohibited or warning police not to use them indiscriminately. This puts SAPS at odds with international guidelines†
Article 3 of the UN Principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials emphasizes that the use of less lethal weapons, such as rubber bullets, “must be carefully monitored”. a 2018 report The panel of police and crowd management experts also called on the police to introduce clear standards for the use of rubber bullets.
Clearly defined standards are clearly needed if SAPS is to take responsibility for ensuring that these weapons do not cause many more unnecessary deaths and injuries.
Four SAPS members are currently on process for murder and other charges related to the murder of Mthokozisi Ntumba. The prosecution reflects the dedicated investigative attention IPID has given to this case. If convicted, this will be unprecedented in the history of police responsibility in South Africa.
No SAPS member has previously been found guilty of murders resulting from the use of rubber bullets during protest incidents. Most famous in 2013 were the SAPS members charged with the murder of Andries Tatane in April 2011 acquitted†
But if any of the four currently on trial are found guilty, it shouldn’t obscure the need for their employer, SAPS, to take much of the blame for this tragic death as well.
If SAPS were engaged in exercising its legal duty to prevent unnecessary loss of life or serious injury, SAPS leadership would ensure that there would be very clear standards regarding the use of rubber bullets.
It would also take steps to ensure that public order police units are commanded by properly trained and responsible officers and that there are demonstrable responsibility for how these weapons are used.
Bruce is an independent researcher who focuses on violence, police and public safety. This article is part of his work on policing and violence on behalf of the Institute for Security Studies.
The views expressed are not necessarily those of GroundUp.
This article first appeared on GroundUp and has been republished with permission. Read the original article here†