Eight South African policemen who killed a Mozambican taxi driver by dragging him handcuffed to a police van have been sentenced to 15 years in prison. His death is one of many that occur under police custody.
The police assault and murder of Mido Macia tarnished the already poor reputation of the country's police force. According to a report by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), each year, over 900 people die in custody or as a result of police action.
IPID's spokesperson Robbie Rabu Rabu told DW he was satisfied with the ruling. "It will always be a lesson because I don’t think anyone believed that the sentence will be as it is," Rabu Rabu said.
Macia, 27, a taxi driver and Mozambican national died from sustained head injuries and internal bleeding after being dragged behind a police vehicle. He was later assaulted in a holding cell.
In his ruling, Judge Bert Bam said the accused policemen, aged between 25 and 56, did not deserve a lenient verdict because they had shown no remorse for committing crime. "The continuous conduct of the accused concerning the injuries on the deceased was barbaric and totally inexplicable," Bam said.
He further condemned the conduct of the officers saying what was more reprehensible was their "cowardly attack in the cell on a defenseless and already seriously injured man."
However, Bam said he found life imprisonment would not be appropriate because the eight policemen had excellent track records. Defense lawyer Benny Ndaba said they would appeal the murder conviction.
Brutal images from the past
The video of the incident which was caught on camera by an onlooker and shared around the world rekindled images of police brutality during the apartheid era. It showed Macia involved in a scuffle with the policemen after he had illegally parked his minivan. Macia became aggressive when the officers confronted him about his taxi that had blocked traffic.
In full view of witnesses who pelted the police van with stones, Macia was then tied to the back of a police van and dragged through the streets of Daveyton. The officers were apprehended after the video went viral triggering international outrage. After watching the video, South Africa's President Jacob Zuma described it as "horrific, disturbing and unacceptable".
Macia's murder is one of many incidents in which South African police officers have been accused for using excessive force. In 2012, police shot dead 34 striking miners in what came to be known as the "Marikana massacre".
This week four police officers were arrested on murder charges after a video emerged depicting an execution-style killing of a suspected robber on a suburban street. The chilling footage shows police firing at the man from close range as he lay on the ground in Krugersdorp, a town west of Johannesburg.
Mido Macia’s family also welcomed the sentence. However, the family's lawyer, Jose Nascimento told DW they had expected longer sentences. " We have to divorce emotions from facts and from the interpretation of the law. What this case does show us is that we have a rule of law. If you transgress and breach that law, you will face the consequences," Nascimento said.
According to news24, a South African online daily, Macia's family is demanding compensation from the South African government amounting to R6.5m ($400,000).
The family's lawyer Nascimento said the State had initially wanted a report justifying the amount but was now willing to discuss the civil claim. "They've approached me and they want to settle this matter. I'm fairly certain that at the end of the day we will have compensation," Nascimento said.
He said Macia's family was getting impatient as more than two years had passed since their breadwinner was killed and his child was about to start pre-school.
"It's not a happy day for me. A life was unnecessarily lost, but I'm satisfied with the verdict," Nascimento told reporters after the eight policemen were found guilty. He said Macia's death which started with a traffic violation could have easily been resolved.