Eight South African police officers linked to the death of a Mozambique taxi driver who was tied to the back of a police patrol van and dragged down a street and subsequently died in custody have been suspended.
The shocking incident was filmed on a mobile phone by a passer-by and later broadcast on South Africa’s television networks.
The taxi driver later died in police holding cells.
According to BBC News, the man’s treatment and later suspicious death have been condemned by some of the highest names in the land.
On Friday, South Africa Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega thanked ordinary people for revealing “callous and unacceptable behavior” and said that the eight police officers implicated had been disarmed and suspended. In addition, she said the station commander had been removed from his post.
Taxi driver Mido Macia, 27, died of head injuries and internal bleeding after he was arrest in Daveyton, east of Johannesburg, tied to a police van and dragged through the streets by police officer as they drove to the police station.
His alleged crime? He was reportedly detained for parking his vehicle in a way that blocked traffic, Agence France-Presse reports.
Video footage showed a crowd following the police van and Macia’s journey to the police station. Just over two hours later, Macia was found dead in custody. A post mortem said the cause of death was head injuries with internal bleeding.
The BBC’s Milton Nkosi in Johannesburg reports that a small crowd of mostly women gathered on Friday morning outside the police station where Macia died.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) has opened a murder investigation, and Phiyega insists the matter will dealt with “decisively, openly, and accurately.”
“Any one death is one too many,” she said in a press conference. “We believe in the principal of police being policed,” adding that the police service still had a “dedicated leadership.”
The incident has shone more embarrassing spotlight on South Africa’s police service after officers shot 34 striking miners last August, and the lead police investigator in the murder case against ex-national hero Oscar Pistorius was revealed to be facing charges of attempted murder for shooting at a taxi.
“They are criminals in uniform,” Bongani Hlela, a street vendor who works at the taxi stand where the Macia incident occurred, told AFP.
According to Amnesty International, the IPID received 720 cases related to suspicious deaths in custody or in other policing contexts from April 2011 to March 2012.
In response, the South African Police Service released a statement expressing “extreme shock and outrage” at the video footage.
“From the video which has gone viral, it is obvious that the rights of Mido Macia were violated in the most extreme form. The behavior displayed in that video, when it is committed by police who are expected to serve and protect, is to be abhorred.”
In a statement, the opposition Democratic Alliance asked why Phiyega has not yet ordered the arrest of the officers.
Paying tribute to Macia, chairman of the Benoni Taxi Association, Justin Ndlovu, told the BBC:
“He was a very humble guy; he leaves behind one child in South Africa. His brother died last year and he had become the guardian of his brother’s wife and three children [also living in South Africa].”