Fees Must Fall protests and Police Brutality: What to do when you are a victim

by: Terry Simelane-Mathabathe - 27 October 2017

Fees Must Fall protests and Police Brutality: What to do when you are a victim

#FeesMustFall2017 has barely started and there have been new incidences of police brutality have been reported.

Earlier this week, human rights organisation Amnesty International shared a video on Twitter showing a police officer manhandling an unarmed student protester at the University of Cape Town. The police officer threatened to break the arm of the victim while he continued to physically harass him.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident. A report released by Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) earlier this year showed an increased number of reported incidents of police brutality. As of October, 207 people died in police custody, up from 159 in the past year. This excludes 51 rapes and 61 reported incidents of torture by the police.

In the wake of these alarming statistics, it’s probably a good idea to arm yourself with facts on what to do, should you encounter such a situation.

We spoke to William Booth, the chairperson of the Law Society of South Africa’s Criminal Law Committee about the legal rights of citizens and what you can do if you’re a victim of police brutality.

“The only time that the police should consider using force when interacting with members of the public, is when a direct or imminent threat is posed to them. Their reaction at this stage should however not go beyond what is reasonably necessary to regain order and control of the situation,” says William.

“The police should be trained to exercise restraint at all times and assault of a member of the public should be an absolute last resort,” he adds.

“Victims can lay a civil claim for damages and injuries sustained during the interaction, as a result of an unlawful assault so that the offender can be prosecuted.”

If you are a victim of police brutality or have been wrongfully arrested and detained, you can report the incident to the IPID or the Police Ombudsman.

Victims are encouraged to approach an attorney to institute civil action for damages and to assist with reporting the matter.

“The [Law Society] do offer pro bono legal services usually when the person is unemployed or if they earn a very low salary. To qualify for pro bono services, the individual must comply with a ‘means test’ (a maximum monthly or no income) and have a legal problem with merit. If the individual satisfies the requirements, they will then be referred to an attorney by the law society who will assist free of charge.”

” [Alternatively] Many attorneys who prosecute on a civil basis, do so for a contingency fee in other words, the attorney may claim a portion of the proceeds when the civil claim pays out.”