I was on a train that left Chris Hani station and arrived at the Cape Town station at about 12:30. In that train, there were police officers who moved from carriage to carriage patrolling and just maintaining visibility hoping that would deter would-be criminals. It was a weekend at the end of the month so was at an opportune time as a lot of people fall victim to crime as they normally have money and/or bank cards with them. That was highly appreciated by the public.
However, I was shocked when 4 or 5 coloured boys were randomly searched and beaten up by the police without any apparent reason. If they found something suspicious or illegal on them, they should have arrested them. However, what those police did was slap the boy across the face a few times.
When the train reached Netreg station, a very tall Zimbabwean man came into the carriage and went to stand by the door next to one of the police officers. The police officer just turned around and punched the man in the face. Initially the man was in such shock that he just stood there staring at the police officer. The other police watched from a distance while laughing. The police officer then slapped the man again. When the man asked why he was being hit, it was as if he called the other police over to assist his aggressor. These police stood by while the man was being slapped and punched as if to help out if he offered any resistance.
As train users, we welcome that police patrol the trains to act as deterrent against criminal acts. However, this kind of brutality is not only senseless, but it further brings down the dignity of the police. I was born and bred in Khayelitsha where residents have very bad memories as far as what the apartheid police did. I am only 24 and was 8 years old when apartheid ended in 1994. But I have vivid memories of police doing some horrible things to people way before and way after 1994. I have had bad experiences with the police personally, where I was in the position of this Zimbabwean man who was randomly beaten up. One example out of many; in December 2003, police knocked at my house at 2am looking for someone. My parents were asked if I was “Shoes”, the person they were looking for. Naturally, they answered to the negative as because I am not “Shoes” and we subsequently learnt the police had missed the house they were looking for by three streets. In that morning, the police took me outside, shone a torch into my face and asked someone in one of their vehicles (I gathered it was an ”informer” or an “impimpi” as they call them here) if I was “him”. I saw a silhouette inside the car shaking his/her head as if to say “no, it is not him”. That frustrated the police who started to beat me up. One chubby coloured police officer seemed to enjoy beating me up more than other, for no reason I might add. I had been quiet and cooperative and they were mistaken as they had been to the wrong house. Yet they still beat me up as if to strike fear to anyone they came across.
After they left, I tried to go back to sleep without success. So I watched television and fell asleep a couple of hours later. Around 10am, I was woken up by a lot of pain in my jaw and left ribs. It was from the police beatings earlier that morning. I was urged by the members of the community, who knew that I was one of the very few good teenage boys left in the neighbourhood. I got to the police station and asked to lay a charge. As soon the officer on the front desk heard that it was from a police beating, she tore the statement and referred me to another office to talk to a police in higher office. There I found that some of the police who were at my house were in that office having coffee. However, I decided that I would be brave and tell the story. As soon as I started telling it, they laughed at me and told me to go away before they arrested me for wasting their time and lying about the police.
Unfortunately, I had four incidents like that in my life involving the police. And I am the lucky one, as in my family everyone born after 1980 in the time where blacks are generally deemed less affected by the brutalities of the apartheid police have been treated brutally by the new police. Even though we saw murders, and horrible beatings, we are all to young to have been personally brutalised by the apartheid government. We became teenagers in the mid-1990’s when things were supposed to change. Yet we have the very same experiences that the previous generations have, being brutalised by the police. And having lived many years in the suburbs, I can safely speculate that police of all races generally treat white people better than they do blacks. The treatment generally slides with the colour of your skin. And that is police of all races, including black. I will not get into details as I want to keep this as short as possible. But if you are white, you have a greater chance that people of all races, even blacks will be courteous to you than if you are black. That is the ghost of the past and I have seen it repeatedly in the police among sectors of the work force and public in general. My nephew was born in 1992. He has had 2 cell phones confiscated or robbed by the police, has been beaten up for no reason. This shows you that the so called “born frees” do not think any better of police than those who were adults during apartheid. At a risk of sounding like a savage, some police are murdered out of retaliation. They perpetrate so many crime of extortion and brutality with the comfort that everyone is too illiterate, uninformed to say something. I want to change that. So if I die or disappear, you know why.
It is possible that you think that I have not thought this through and that race and paranoia are my default as with most South Africans when I fail to find logic in a matter. One of my contributions to my country is conducting social experiments. And I can tell you that even sounding white (having a white accent) on the phone or in person triggers a different response than if you sound black or even coloured. Generally (there are always exceptions), people are more professional and more courteous when you are or sound white or seem to have a lot of money or highly educated. While the inverse is true when you are black. And being a black or coloured teen from the township screams out “criminal”, “gangster”, “general delinquent”, “nuisance” or “menace to society”. This is true across the spectrum in SA. Even at a supermarket (Checkers, Spar, Shoprite, Pick n Pay etc), addressing the black and coloured women at the tills with a white accent (similar to that of, say Gareth Cliff, Tony Leon) triggers a different response than when you address them in a that of, say Jacob Zuma, Bheki Cele, or just in broken English or isiXhosa my mother tongue.
Coming back to the police issue, these guys just have itchy hands, act with no fear of impunity because they know that in Khayelitsha you get away with whatever you do. Cop or skolly alike, senseless violence is the order of the day. And we wonder why we live in such a violent country. If you are black, police just stop you under a racially motivated suspicion (even blacks on blacks or coloureds to coloureds) , just give you a good beating and the drive away. They feel invincible. They know that as a black or coloured person, you have no real remedies to that situation. You will get up, dust yourself off and walk home with a ball of anger. But you will never make them pay.
This is not unique I must add. All people in power seem to feel invincible around black man. They can flex their muscle and lash out at them as they did under apartheid. I have an outstanding case with Metrorail where one of their security personnel assaulted me on Saturday 3rd July 2010 after the Germany v Argentina World Cup quarterfinal game played at the Green Point stadium. I reported the matter on the 5th and gave a detailed description of the man who did that. Initially they seemed quite keen to deal with the matter, buy they later capitulated and ignored me. I suspect that when they will come out and say something, they will somehow find a way for say it is my fault that they have not done something. This is a classic case justice delayed for the poor in SA against rude, incompetent and violent officials. I will make sure that as many people around the world know about this.
We need a paradigm shift in the way we as society of all races view each other. Apartheid may have ended on paper, but in the minds of our people it is alive ad well. Moreover, the unfortunate thing is that the people pass it on to their children. Let us free ourselves in all ways.