Andries Tatane: No Ordinary Death

The Eastern Cape recently experienced unrest, owing to poor service delivery in Ficksburg and Clocolan, amongst other towns. On Wednesday, the 13th April 2011, violence apparently came about as Mayor Mpothoma Maduma refused to give feedback to the protesters.

That evening, millions of South Africans including myself, saw footage of South African Police brutally beating up a man on SABC News. This man, Andries Tatane, did not survive- he died before an ambulance arrived. The scenes shown in the footage, clearly show how those meant to ‘protect and serve’ savagely murdered a man who posed no danger to them. I was deeply shocked, not only by what I witnessed, but also that SABC News- whom I’ve often condemned for their bias, actually aired the footage.

However, I am deeply concerned by the reaction to this incident. All the concern about how the matter was presented, seems to be overshadowing the true tragedy of the situation- “that members of SAPS violently killed an unarmed protester after severely beating him in full glare of members of the Ficksburg community…”

The quest for justice for this crime, should be what is most important in this entire matter, as well as action being taken about what appears to be a trend of police violating the rights of people exercising their constitutional rights. Hence my great disappointment in the aftermath, following Andries Tatane’s murder.

According to Police Minister, Nathi Mthethwa “It is “inappropriate” to draw conclusions at this stage on what led to the death of a protester in a scuffle with the police in Ficksburg” (published in the Times Live on the 14th April 2011). I find this statement to be rather insensitive and rather thoughtless, considering that a man died with all of us able to see who did it. Something else, I found rather disturbing was that, the following day, the six policemen who were shown beating Andries Tatane to death were still working- though sent to other areas. Studies have proven that punishment is most effective if undertaken soon after the wrong is committed, something that should guide how we deal with perpetrators of crimes. Failure to do this can be seen as the quest for justice not being prioritised.

Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that the entire matter does raise many questions- questions that need to be answered if true progress is to made.
An interesting one posed by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), “Are a man’s dying moments appropriate for page 1?” This was asked in a media release, posted on the 15th April following an image of Andries Tatane’s death being put on the front pages of Business Day, Daily Sun and Sowetan. The release which stated that, “Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) condemns in the strongest possible terms the police brutality that led to the death of Andries Tatane…”, further says, “…What is of concern to MMA is that some newspapers chose to publish a front page image of Andries Tatane’s dying moments as he lay in the arms of a man, who was clearly stricken with grief.

The image that appeared on page 1 of Business Day, Daily Sun and Sowetan is very powerful, emotive and compelling. However, MMA cannot ignore that this particular image invades the privacy and dignity of both a dying and a traumatised man, laying bare these incredibly intimate moments. MMA has to ask why it was chosen as the front page image for these three daily newspapers. Was it to inform, to agitate, to sell newspapers or was it so important that to hide it would be unconscionable? Only the newspaper editors can explain their decision, and we believe that they should do so.”

I however don’t feel that the image was inappropriate. In the words of Richard Pithouse (The South African Civil Society Information Service- Johannesburg), “In the past it has been possible for much of South African society to deny the increasing brutality with which our police repress grassroots dissent. The police have generally had a vastly better capacity for public relations than any poor people’s organisation and so the average newspaper reader is usually confronted with the police spin on events or, at best, two very different versions of what has happened when a body is left battered or broken after a protest. But the video footage of the murder of Andries Tatane leaves no room for doubt about what kind of society we have become…” I believe that the images also clearly show this and as such, were very necessary.

Another interesting matter brought to the fore by none other than the ANC, is whether the SABC “overstepped its’ mandate”, by broadcasting the footage showing what led up to Andries Tatane’s death. According to
A statement released by the ANC, “We are equally concerned that the public broadcaster showed such shocking and disturbing images on its prime time news slot with disregard to young viewers and other sensitive people who obviously would have been disturbed to various degrees by such images. We therefore, also call upon the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to investigate whether the public broadcaster has not overstepped its mandate in this regard”. There is no doubt that SABC 1 was wrong to display the footage, without warning its’ viewers about the violence. However, in my opinion, their mandate was not overstepped as police brutality is a matter of public interest and the ANC’s views on this matter can be taken as an “attempt to censor the broadcast of this story…” It also has to be pointed out that all this talk about the SABC “overstepping its’ mandate” is rather pathetic considering how there is complete silence when it spews pro-government/pro-ANC propaganda and that this ‘overstepping of mandate’ is of equal concern to the murder of an innocent citizen, exercising his right to protest is downright disturbing.

Questions I feel should also be raised, with regards to this matter include:

– Is portrayal of the government in a negative light, more important than justice?

– Is the South African media sensationalising the incident to create an ‘anti-government’ environment?

– Is this incident indicative of a state strongly inclined to repress dissent?

– Has Bheki Cele’s “shoot to kill” created a Police Force that is a law unto itself?

Difficult questions, no doubt, However, I strongly believe that how these questions are answered and the action taken upon answering them is key to building our democracy. This was no ordinary murder, as it has brought key matters to the fore- matters that need to be addressed in the best interests of the future of South Africa’s democracy.

Rest in Peace Andries!!!

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About Koketso Moeti

Mother. Campaigner. Political orphan. Blogger. Activator. Part time professional black. Liker of things. Lover of people. No sense of humour.