The Daveyton police killing and return of the Quatro state

Paul Trewhela says our electoral system has left ordinary citizens powerless to stop abuses

After the death in police hands in Daveyton this week of the Mozambican taxi driver, Mido Macia (27) - hauled handcuffed behind a moving police van before the eyes of the world on television news services yesterday - South Africa is today faced with the threat of a Quatro state, with an unaccountable police force and an unaccountable political system.

Worldwide media interest in the violent death of model Reeva Steenkamp at the hands of her Olympic hero boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, was succeeded yesterday by the front page of the Daily Sun, with its headline "Murdered by the South African Police Service", waved by angry citizens in Daveyton.

Horrific footage has been shown on television, iPads and cellphones world-wide.

It is now reported across the world that, according to Amnesty International, there were 294 deaths in police custody in South Africa in the 12 months before March 2010. This appalling statistic relates to a period more than two years before the police killings at Marikana last August, preceded as these were by the killing by police -again, on film - of Andries Tatane at Ficksburg in April 2011.

Inmates at Daveyton police station have alleged that Macia was beaten to death by police in the cells, after having been dragged handcuffed to the back of a police van for several hundreds of metres. He was found dead in his cell on Tuesday.

Moses Dlamini, spokesman of the Independent Police Investigation Directorate, stated: "We are shocked by the footage which has been released."

Instead of the civic and democratic constitutional system that South Africans and the world believed had been set in place by the reforms set in place under guidance of Emeritus President Mandela following his release from prison in 1990, the country now finds itself trapped in an unaccountable political system, with unaccountable police killings.

After nearly 20 years of ANC government, this was the model of the ANC in exile, under the reign of terror of its secret police force, Mbokodo, "the grindstone." Immune to demands for individual accountability of office-holders to their members, an arrogant, self-serving political elite responded in that period with ongoing harsh repression. As confirmed in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1998), killings of dissidents by Mbokodo took place at will, while ANC members who refused to conform found themselves detained without trial for years at a time in Quatro prison camp in northern Angola, often under daily beatings and torture. This was the model for the licensed killings at Ficksburg, Marikana and now Daveyton.

The manhandling and murderous abuse of Mido Macia this week in full public view gives point to increasing calls by eminent public figures in South Africa for a reform of the political system, so as to bring politicians under control of local communities.

Three of the most recent demands for electoral reform were made by Dr Mamphela Ramphele, announcing the formation of a new political party, Agang, which will place electoral reform at the head of its political programme (18 February); by the Cape Town-based political commentator and former Oxford academic, RW Johnson, in a long article on Politicsweb (17 February); and by the Catholic archbishop of Durban, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier (27 January).

In her address announcing the formation of Agang, "Rekindling the South African dream", Mamphela Ramphele stated that South Africa was being "fundamentally undermined by a massive failure of governance. Our rallying cry during the struggle for freedom was for the people to govern, yet the system of choosing Members of Parliament from lists drawn up by political parties gives disproportionate power to party bosses at the expense of ordinary citizens. We should be able to vote for the person in our own area we want to represent us in Parliament, so we can hold them accountable for the electoral promises they make.

"We want an MP for Marikana, an MP for De Doorns, and an MP for Sasolburg, so if the people are unhappy and the MP is not responsive enough, they will be voted out at the next election. South Africa's people are effectively being prevented from governing by the country's electoral system. We will be working with fellow citizens to launch a million signature campaign for electoral reform. Electoral reform must be the first order of business of the post-2014 election parliament."

Just as there is no MP for Marikana, De Doorns or Sasolburg under the current electoral law, so the citizens of Ficksburg and now Daveyton find themselves powerless to insist on justice in the face of police lawlessness.

In his article, "The state of the opposition", RW Johnson has similarly emphasised that "South Africa's bizarre electoral system ... removes all accountability to voters from MPs and hands all power to the party bosses", noting that more and more voices were being raised "against our appalling electoral system."

In the same way, in an article in the Sunday Independent headed "Speaking truth will set our country free", Cardinal Wilfrid Napier  made a searching criticism of the lack of democratic representation under what he descibed as "party list system".

The principal problem with the list system, he wrote, is that "candidates chosen to represent the electorate are failing in their task because they are beholden to the party which can promote or demote them at will and without reference to their performance in the eyes of those they are supposed to serve."

It is high time, he added, that "the findings of the Slabbert Commission [of 2003, into electoral reform] were dusted off, studied, debated and put into practice."

All the more urgently, after the shameless killing of Mido Macia, should these sound and sober criticisms of an increasingly dictatorial political system be "studied, debated and put into practice," as Cardinal Napier has urged.

The alternative, already showing its flagrant brutality, is the Quatro state.

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