Skip to main content

Death of man dragged by police van sparks outrage in South Africa

By Nkepile Mabuse and Josh Levs, CNN
March 1, 2013 -- Updated 0049 GMT (0849 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Video shows a man handcuffed to a police van and dragged
  • Investigators say he died hours later, apparently from head wounds
  • South Africa had more than 6,000 complaints of police crimes in a recent 1-year period
  • The country's history of violence affects some police, an analyst says

Johannesburg (CNN) -- A man, struggling to get away, is surrounded by South African police in the middle of a street as a large crowd looks on. The officers pull him over to a police van and handcuff his hands, over his head, to the back of the vehicle as he sits on the ground.

Soon, as some in the crowd scream, the van begins to move. It slowly picks up speed. The helpless man in a red T-shirt is dragged along the road.

Soon, two officers lift him up by the legs, apparently to avoid dragging -- but the police van seems to speed up, and the man's legs fall to the ground, He is dragged hundreds of feet.

South Africa shocked by police shootings at mine

Though injured, the man was never taken to a hospital, police investigators say.

He died a few hours after the incident. The suspected cause of death: head wounds.

The video, captured by someone in the crowd in Daveyton, near Johannesburg, has sparked fury over police brutality in the country.

"We are shocked by this incident," said Moses Dlamini, a spokesman for the Police Investigative Directorate, an independent government agency that looks into possible crimes by police.

But such a scene may not be all that rare. The directorate received more than 6,000 complaints accusing police of numerous crimes, including murder and torture, during a one-year period from early 2011 to early 2012.

The cases include 648 deaths.

The U.S. State Department's human rights report on South Africa for 2011, the latest year available, said the country's "principal human rights problems included police use of lethal and excessive force, including torture, against suspects and detainees, which resulted in deaths and injuries; vigilante and mob violence; and prison overcrowding and abuse of prisoners, including beatings and rape by prison guards."

But Dlamini was quick to emphasize that in the nation of 50 million people, police who carry out crimes do not reflect the police service as a whole. "There are many other officers who are dedicated, who uphold the law and arrest criminals all the time," he said.

While authorities have not confirmed the man's identity, local reports say he was a taxi driver from Mozambique.

The man and the police in the video, as well as those in the crowd, are black, so there is no suggestion that the incident is a sign of white vs. black tensions in the country.

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

Johan Burger, a senior researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, said some police officers think they "are above the law" and that there won't be consequences for their actions.

South Africa's history of violence "is part and parcel of daily life," he said. Some think "the best way to deal with this is to act in a brutal way."

CNN's Nkepile Mabuse reported from Johannesburg; CNN's Josh Levs reported from Atlanta.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 0057 GMT (0857 HKT)
Children and youth are often the victims of the violence in Gaza. CNN's Ben Wedeman reports.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 0307 GMT (1107 HKT)
A nun, an AIDS researcher, an athlete and a family traveling on summer vacation. These were some of the victims aboard MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 0621 GMT (1421 HKT)
In an ambitious plan to upgrade urban India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he will build 100 "smart cities" across the country.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Inspirational, creepy or just weird? CNN meets the 51-year-old man who dresses like a schoolgirl.
shakespeare moon illustration
It's been 45 years since the first moon landing. And still the giant rock continues to intrigue.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
Nelson Mandela
21 ICONS has captured intimate portraits of some of South Africa's most celebrated. Founder Adrian Steirn reveals the story behind the images.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
A British nanotech company has created what it says is the world's darkest material.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1112 GMT (1912 HKT)
Yoga, meditation and watching a snake eat a frog alive: these are some of the experiences to be had at this Himalayan yoga retreat.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1139 GMT (1939 HKT)
Just a few weeks ago, a boy tied to a bus stop in Mumbai barely received a glance from passersby. Now, he has a home, thanks to a local NGO.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT