News & Politics

South African Police Drag Man to Death

Gruesome death, caught on video, is sparking global outrage.

With the world’s eye still fixed on South Africa and the scandal over Oscar Pistorius—and the police mishandling of it—the country is now under scrutiny for another act of violence committed by the police themselves.

For American viewers, the event, captured on a video camera, will recall the gruesome murder of James Byrd, Jr. a black man who was dragged to death by three white supremacists.

But there’s a crucial difference between that story and the event that resulted in the death of the 27-year-old Mido Macia, in South Africa this week: the murderers were the police.

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Macia died of head injuries after police officers tied him to a police van and dragged him through the streets during the middle of the day, ignoring the objections and questions of the many bystanders.

South Africa has long held the reputation of being a country with high levels of crime and gun violence, a reputation that surfaced again in the wake of Pistorius’s alleged murder of his girlfriend. But something that people less rarely talk about is the country’s incredibly high levels of police violence.

Police violence in South Africa has been increasing rapidly. In 2008-2009, the police killed more than 500 people in the country, double the number from only a few years earlier.

In 2008, then deputy police minister essentially gave her officers a blank check to kill.

“I want no warning shots,” she said at a rally. “You have one shot and it must be a kill shot. If you miss, the criminals will go for the kill. They don’t miss. We can’t take this chance.”

Police violence culminated last summer, when the police began shooting workers engaging in a strike—killing 34 unarmed plantation miners.

But this massive police violence and repression certainly isn’t making the country safer. Although official statistics show violent crime falling, gun ownership and the ensuring violence remains high. On average, three women are killed by their romantic partners every single day in the country.

But while women aren’t safe at home, men aren’t safe in the streets—as this latest murder so gruesomely demonstrates.

Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist and the author of "A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home," forthcoming from Zuccotti Park Press.