By Llewellyn prince and René-Jean van der Berg
Police chief General Bheki Cele believes that recent police killings have been isolated incidents. Statistics, however, show that at least 566 people have died at the hands of police this year.
The Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) for 2009/10 report that a further 294 people died in police detention this year. In addition, 325 charges of attempted murder and 920 of assault with intention to do grievous bodily harm have been reported.
However, the figures include criminals who were killed in the line of duty, but exact figures on these deaths are not known.
In the latest incident, Janet Odendaal (45) died when she was allegedly shot by Sergeant Manape Phineas Kgoale (38) in front of the Kempton Park police station this week.
This comes just weeks after Andries Tatane (32) was beaten up and shot dead by police officers during a service delivery protest. The eight policemen who have been charged with killing Tatane were denied bail in Ficksburg on Friday.
The ICD is investigating the circumstances surrounding Tatane and Odendaal’s deaths.
These incidents have sent shock waves around the country and President Jacob Zuma on Thursday condemned the deaths at the ANC’s head offices in Johannesburg.
Speaking on the same day in the presence of Odendaal’s bereaved parents, Dick and Ella Odendaal, at the Kempton Park Police Station, Cele denied that police brutality was rife.
“Before you decide that the incident (Odendaal’s death) was a result of police brutality, let us first finish the investigation,” he said.
“You refer to police brutality as if we have a policy on it. There is no such policy. These were purely the actions of individuals.
“You’re making such a noise over this incident, but since January, 20 police officers have already died on the job. One was a 26-year-old woman and nobody is making a noise about this.”
David Bruce, of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said the use of excessive force by police was far more common than their management was prepared to admit.
He said the Independent Complaints Directorate alone could not solve this problem and police management needed to put systems in place to stop brutality.
Meanwhile, Dick and Ella Odendaal said almost a week after the incident, they still did not know what had happened when their daughter died.
“It feels like something out of a thriller movie,” Ella Odendaal said yesterday.
Charges against Kgoale have not yet been formulated and his bail application on Friday was postponed.
The police have not released any information about the shooting, but a car guard has told the media that a police officer had walked up to Janet’s parked car and without saying a word shot her in the upper body through the window.
Janet had apparently gone to the police station on Tuesday night to lay a charge of disturbance of the peace.
“We’re devastated. Everything was unreal,” said Ella Odendaal.
“The police are themselves incredibly shocked by the incident. The sympathetic way in which they are handling everything is helping us a little to accept everything.”