South African police bound a man’s hands to the rear of their van, and then sped off, dragging the victim along the pavement as a crowd of onlookers shouted in dismay. The man was later found dead.
A camera-phone video of the scene shot on Tuesday by a bystander is all the more disturbing because the men who abused the Mozambican taxi driver were uniformed South African police officers and the van was a marked police vehicle.
The graphic scenes of the victim struggling for his life have shocked a nation long accustomed to reports of police violence.
“The visuals of the incident are horrific, disturbing and unacceptable. No human being should be treated in that manner,” said South African president Jacob Zuma.
The Daily Sun, a South African newspaper, posted video the footage yesterday and it was quickly picked up by other South African news outlets. It sparked immediate outrage about police behaviour.
“They are there for safety, but we as a people fear them more,” said Johannesburg resident Alfonso Adams. “You don’t know who to trust anymore.”
Some of those in the crowd who watched the scene unfold in the Daveyton township, east of Johannesburg, shouted at the police and warned that it was being filmed.
The police did not seem concerned by the witnesses and cameras as they tied Mido Macia, a 27-year-old from neighbouring Mozambique, to the back of a police vehicle, his hands behind his head. At least three policemen participated in the incident. Mr Macia was found dead in a Daveyton police cell late on Tuesday.
“We are going to film this,” several onlookers shouted in Zulu as the police tormented Mr Macia. One bystander can be heard on the videotape shouting in Zulu: “What has this guy done?”
A murder probe is now under way on the evidence that Mr Macia suffered head and upper abdomen injuries, including internal bleeding, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the police watchdog, said yesterday.
Spokesman Moses Dlamini said: “The allegations are that he was dragged behind a vehicle and his head was bent on the police vehicle. There are also allegations of assault.”
The video evidence of the abuse renewed concerns about brutality, corruption and other misconduct by a national police force whose reputation has suffered in recent years amid reports that many officers lack training. Some have been charged with committing crimes, including rape and murder.
“As horrific as it is, it is not exceptional. Hardly a week goes by without such stories of brutality,” said Jacob van Garderen, national director of Lawyers for Human Rights.
In the video, Mr Macia, dressed in jeans and a red T-shirt, is dragged along the road by the vehicle at slow speed. He tries to keep step even though he is almost horizontal above the ground.
Then the van stops, two policemen pick up Mr Macia’s legs and drop them to the ground as the van picks up speed and drives off.
The incident started when the taxi driver was allegedly obstructing traffic with his vehicle.