Under apartheid, South Africa’s police were notorious for extrajudicial killings and the routine use of torture against political dissidents. Only later did it emerge that these same techniques were being used even when the victims were suspected criminals, rather than enemies of the racist state.On the birth of the Rainbow Nation two decades ago, most people believed that this would quickly become a thing of the past, that a new era of prosperity, justice and social harmony would make such abuses unthinkable.But in the past 20 years, with both prosperity and social equality remaining an unfulfilled dream for many South Africans, violent crime has been on the rise. This in turn has generated an increasingly aggressive response from the police – under intense political pressure to stop muggings, armed robberies, gang warfare and murder on the streets of the country’s major cities.
The problem is that some of those charged with upholding the law have been breaking it themselves. Elements of South Africa’s police now stand accused of being out of control in a way that is dangerously reminiscent of apartheid’s darkest days.In this episode of Africa Investigates, veteran South African journalists Stephan Hofstatter and Mzilikazi wa Afrika, from the country’s Sunday Times newspaper, examine the activities of one elite police unit and allegations that its members have been responsible for the torture and murder of criminal suspects.