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South African police condemned in death of man

February 28, 2013|By Robyn Dixon

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Police face possible murder charges in South Africa for allegedly handcuffing a man to a van and dragging him along a road, after the popular tabloid the Daily Sun posted a video of the incident online.

Commuter mini-bus driver Mido Macia allegedly was accosted by several officers Tuesday evening after blocking traffic with his white Toyota Avanza minivan. The video footage showed the 27-year-old Mozambican resisting the police as they muscled him toward the police van, while a crowd of people watched and shouted.

The video shows Macia being handcuffed by police to the van with his hands above his head before an officer drives the van away, dragging him along the road until the vehicle is out of sight. Macia's buttocks and legs dragged along the road.

According to a statement by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, or IPID, Macia died several hours after being taken into custody.

The death comes as South African police have been under fire for other instances of alleged brutality or misconduct. Last week, Hilton Botha, the lead detective in the murder trial of Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, was removed from the case because he faced attempted murder charges in a shooting that involved a commuter taxi carrying seven passengers.

Police also have been criticized over the fatal shootings of 34 protesting platinum miners, some of whom had allegedly surrendered during a confrontation after a strike in August at Lonmin's Marikana mine. Dozens of other strikers were injured in the shootings, which ignited a debate about excessive police violence.

According to the IPID statement, the confrontation with Macia began at 6:50 p.m. on Tuesday. He was found dead in a police cell at 9:15 p.m. He died of internal bleeding and head injuries and had suffered other injuries as well.

The IPID, which investigates accusations against police, has launched an inquiry into the death. It said the case was being treated as a homicide, but no one had yet been arrested or charged. During the struggle, Macia allegedly hit a policeman and grabbed his firearm, the IPID said. The policeman then grabbed the weapon back and overpowered Macia.

Amnesty International said the video footage and reports of police violence against Macia were shocking.

“This appalling incident involving excessive force is the latest in an increasingly disturbing pattern of brutal police conduct in South Africa,” Noel Kututwa, Amnesty International’s southern Africa director, said in a statement.

According to Amnesty International, cases of suspicious deaths due to policing are disturbingly common in South Africa.

Two weeks ago, a female police officer, Hlengiwe Mkhize, was convicted of murder in the shooting death of a 15-year-old boy, Mlindeli Ngobo, who was driving and accidentally bumped her car. Three days earlier, four officers appeared in court charged with murder in the death of Richard Mahlangu, 28, who allegedly was assaulted by police in his home last year before being driven away in a police SUV. His body was found in the police station car park.

According to the IPID annual report covering the period of April 2011 through March 2012, there were 720 reports of deaths in police custody or as a result of police action. There were 2,320 cases of alleged criminal action by police.

The year before, the number of cases of alleged rape by police investigated by the IPID increased by 92%, according to the agency's annual report for the period ending in March 2011.

Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega condemned the alleged brutality against Macia.

She said in a statement Thursday that the incident was viewed "in a very serious light and it is strongly condemned." Phiyega said the police were setting up an internal investigation in order to provide the IPID with facts about what happened.

The Daily Sun published comments from an inmate at the Daveyton police station, where Macia was incarcerated, saying that police beat the man to death. It also published witness accounts from people who saw police handcuff Macia to the van and drive away.

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