Last year, on 10 March 2021, police shot and killed Mthokozisi Ntumba when they responded to student protests at the University of the Witwatersrand. Mr Ntumba had just left doctors’ rooms and was not involved in the protests. On Tuesday 5 July, the Johannesburg High Court acquitted the four police officers accused after they brought a Section 174 application in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1977 finding that the state has failed to provide evidence that they committed the offence. South African Police Services officers Tshepisho Kekana, Boitumelo Cidraas Motseothatha, Joseph Madimetja Legodi, and Nkosinathi Victor Mohammed were charged with the murder of Mr Ntumba and attempted murder of three other people. SERI is deeply disappointed in this outcome and demands accountability for Mr Ntumba and his family.
According to a CCTV video of the alleged incident, police violently pursued a group of people standing on a sidewalk. In the video, the police are clearly seen firing their shotguns indiscriminately as the group of people flees for safety. Moments later, a man returns into the frame, clearly injured. He is Mr Ntumba, and the injuries cost him his life.
The conduct of the police in this incident was so abhorrent that even the Minister of Police Bheki Cele found their actions to be inexcusable and yet the justice system and relevant bodies responsible for police accountability have once again failed to hold the officers responsible for Mr Ntumba’s death accountable. They have not only let the Ntumba family down but the broader public who share in the pain and disappointment.
Tuesday’s outcome is an unnerving reminder of the 2013 acquittal of seven police officers in the case of Andries Tatane who was also shot and killed by police on camera in Ficksburg, Free State at a service delivery protest. The Judge in the Ntumba matter finds that none of the state witnesses could positively identity either of the accused as the shooter who killed Mr Ntumba. In the Tatane matter, witnesses renounced their identification of the Public Order Police (POP) officers involved in the shooting. The judge also states that the video footage entered into evidence did not show anyone shooting or the faces of the responsible police officers. The judge goes further to state that reference to footage in witness testimony must be referring to other footage which was not entered into evidence during the prosecution’s case.
SERI remains convinced that without accountability for incidents of excessive use of force and other abuses by police, we will continue to see fatalities and injuries because the police will continue to act with impunity. In addition to the concern around accountability, it is crucial that the police remove rubber bullets in crowd management because of the risks associated with the weapon’s indiscriminate nature and its potential to cause death and grave injuries. We hope that the judgment is not the end of the Ntumba family’s pursuit of justice and demand, in the public interest that:
Nomzamo Zondo, SERI executive director, said: "We cannot accept a conclusion that Mthokozisi Ntumba’s killer could not be found despite video evidence, police operation plan details and the many eyewitnesses that saw this incident when we know that he is a policeman that was travelling in a Nyala who was posted to respond to the student protests on that day. It is only complete transparency from the SAPS, IPID and NPA that will steer us away from a conclusion that the system is rigged against police accountability."
On 30 June 2022, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa made a submission to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development on the draft Magistrates Bill and the Lower Courts Bill issued for public comment in March and April 2022.
The Magistrates Bill is aimed at regulating the procedure relating to the appointment, dismissal and disciplinary action taken against magistrates, as well as providing for the establishment of a Magistrates Commission. The Lower Courts Bill, on the other hand, is concerned with court structure and aims to provide for the establishment of lower courts, as well as provisions for their administration. Both Bills aim to align the magistrates and lower court systems with the Constitution. The Bills will replace the existing Magistrates' Courts Act(Act No. 32 of 1944) as well as the Magistrates Act(Act No. 90 of 1993).
SERI notes that overall, both Bills seem to form part of a larger initiative to reform the judicial system in South Africa. While many of the goals of the reform are welcome, SERI notes with concern the atomized manner in which change is being implemented and calls for clarity from the Department on the vision of this reform and the means to achieving it. For example, it is unclear how the Bills currently under discission relate to other proposed legislation that the Department has introduced, for example, the 2021 Land Court Bill, on which SERI also made a submission. A holistic and interactive approach is essential for reform measures to meaningfully respond to the complexities of the court system, judiciary and needs of the general public in exercising their rights through litigation.
SERI has considered the Bills and makes this submission on the basis of extensive public interest litigation, research and advocacy experience. SERI draws specifically on a SERI research report recently launched, which deals specifically with how eviction matters are adjudicated at the magistrate’s court level. SERI makes this submission because the Bill could potentially re-enforce the findings of the research and therefore negatively affect poor and vulnerable households facing eviction in the Johannesburg inner city.
Although SERI acknowledges that there is merit in reforming outdated structures, guidelines and practices of both the magistrates and the structure of the lower courts, SERI's makes the following comments and recommendations:
Thursday, 16 June 2022 will mark 46 years since the 1976 Soweto youth-led uprisings when police opened fire on protesting students, killing and injuring hundreds. Since the end of apartheid, poor communities, workers, and young people have continued to suffer state and political violence meted out to stifle both dissent and legitimate concerns.
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the Marikana massacre for which no one has been held accountable. The events at Marikana left 44 people dead, and of the mineworkers killed 18 were 35‑years old or younger. Over the years, the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement has also lost at least eight young people to state and political violence. In 2021, excessive use of force against student protestors culminated in the killing of 35-year old Mthokozisi Ntumba, a bystander.
To commemorate Youth Day and reflect on these issues, Abahlali baseMjondolo, family members of the mineworkers killed at Marikana and SERI have partnered to host two activities aimed at drawing attention to the scourge of state and political violence.
On 16 June, we will host a workshop entitled, ‘Struggle & Memory: Writing our own stories’ at which Dr. Julian Brown will present and facilitate a discussion on his new book, ‘Marikana: A People’s History’ as well as Abahlali baseMjondolo’s experiences of state violence. The workshop will further unpack the importance of people and communities writing their own stories and owning the narratives of their struggle that accurately reflect their experiences and present their perspectives.
On 17 June, at 08:00, Abahlali baseMjondolo will lead a picket at the City Hall and at the South African Human Rights Commission in Durban to demand justice for the unwarranted killing of youth in South Africa by the police. The picket seeks to highlight that there has been no accountability for any of the abuses by the police at Marikana, at various student protests, and against social movements and community-based organisations like Abahlali baseMjondolo who continue to lose activists. Such violence has unfortunately become the norm because of failures to hold perpetrators to account.
SERI and Abahlali baseMjondolo commemorate this Youth Day in remembrance of the fearless young people who have lost their lives in the struggle against past and present oppression.
The South African government recently developed the draft National Labour Migration Policy (NLMP) and the Employment Services Amendment Bill (ESAB). The draft National Labour Migration Policy (NLMP) was introduced to facilitate and regulate the flow of labour to and from South Africa. It's aimed at addressing the country's "brain drain" by keeping skilled workers in the country. Similarly, the Employment Services Amendment Bill (ESAB) was created to amend the Employment Services Act (2014) to regulate the employment of non-South African nationals.
The South African government states that, overall, the draft policy and Bill are aimed at retaining skilled labour, growing the economy, creating opportunities for South Africans and combatting unemployment.
While we welcome the introduction of laws to protect workers' rights, the NLMP and ESAB fall short in this regard. Our poster explains the shortcomings of the ESAB and NLMP and how they can be improved.
The Oxford Human Rights Hub has just published a podcast episode and blog post on SERI's research on how eviction cases in the Johannesburg inner city are adjudicated by the courts.
SERI’s Just and Equitable? Evictions Research Series is concerned with the way in which the courts adjudicated evictions in the Johannesburg inner city between 2013 and 2018. It aims to review the courts’ implementation of relevant legislation, such as Section 26(3) of the Constitution and the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act 19 of 1998 (the PIE Act), and case law. In addition, the series maps the spatial distribution of evictions to highlight any wards in the inner city that face particular vulnerability.
On 23 March 2022, SERI launched the first research report in the series entitled An analysis of eviction cases in the Johannesburg Central Magistrate’s Court and their compliance with the law. It analyses eviction cases in 12 wards in the inner city of Johannesburg and its immediate periphery litigated at the Johannesburg Central Magistrate’s Court between 2013 and 2018 and asks whether eviction applications have been examined through the just and equitable lens, as the legislation requires.
The recently published podcast episode entitled 'Spotlight on an understudied institution: evictions and the Magistrate's Court in South Africa' was recorded a podcast in August 2019, when the research into the magistrate’s court was still underway, with lead author of the magistrate’s court report, SERI’s Nerishka Singh and with Timothy Fish Hodgson from the International Commission of Jurists (Africa). SERI’s Yvonne Erasmus, co-author of the report, and Nerishka penned a blog for Oxford Human Rights Hub entitled, 'How Evictions Law Has Been Implemented in the Lower Courts in South Africa' to accompany the podcast and set out the key findings from the research into the magistrate’s court.