Next month it will be one year since 16-year-old Nathaniel Julies was killed in Eldorado Park. Three police officers, charged variously with murder and accessory to murder, are due to stand trial for Julies’ killing later this year.
Julies’ killing sparked protests in Eldorado Park, which only prompted more police brutality, say the township’s residents. At the time of the global Black Lives Matter movement, the killing of Julies brought unprecedented attention to the issue of police brutality and non-accountability in South Africa.
Viewfinder’s investigation of this issue is rooted in the Independent Police Investigative Directorate’s (IPID) case intake data for police stations across South Africa. For us, a close reading of these data have confirmed the issue of police brutality and non-accountability centres in poor, black communities.
Our recent exposé explored how police management in Gauteng fails to hold problem officers in the province accountable. From the data, we have now isolated a cluster of the province’s police stations south of Johannesburg: Eldorado Park, Ennerdale, Kliptown, Lenasia and Lenasia South. Across these areas, IPID registered 30 killings, 18 deaths in custody, more than 170 assault cases and 46 shootings by police between April 2012 and March 2020. Only three cases led to officers being disciplined, and none of them lost their jobs.
It’s against this backdrop that Viewfinder has partnered with Eldos FM – the area’s community radio station – to issue a call to action and engagement in communities most affected by police brutality. Under the title of #VukaniMaAfrika, the call asks South Africans, especially those living in areas which experience police abuses, to share their experiences, to ask questions and to demand accountability from their local station commanders. The collaboration with Eldos FM is the pilot phase for this campaign.
“They (SAPS) need to realize that it’s a new day, and the way they are treating their own, shows there’s been no culture change since apartheid. They need to have a culture shift at police stations, that’s the conversation that needs to happen,” said Lorreal De Lange, the station manager who is spearheading the partnership for Eldos FM.
De Lange admits that a culture of fear of the police in Eldorado Park stops victims from speaking out or pursuing justice.
“It’s very close to home and we are scared. But at the same time it’s also necessary to expose this kind of information, it’s more necessary for us to do it than to listen to our fear.”
Tunicia Jegels grew up in Eldorado Park and is a director on Eldos FM’s board. She is writing a book about Julies’ death, as well as police abuses more generally. She says communities like Eldorado Park are targeted by SAPS and it’s common for residents to experience police brutality from a young age. She recalls how, as an 18-year-old, she was assaulted by a female police officer in Eldorado Park, who falsely accused her and her friends of drinking in a car.
“It was just so abusive, unnecessary and such an over exertion of authority; that was my first encounter with police in Eldos and it was very traumatizing,” she says, adding that in the months following Julies’ killing, it appears to be business as usual for the police in Eldorado Park.
“Eldos has also become a place where (community) stakeholders are really trying to work with SAPS – to look for the good apples within SAPS, and also know that SAPS has the power of being dangerous and being forced to sometimes turn a blind eye. That’s the reality in which everybody operates in – an atmosphere of fear with SAPS. But it’s also so critical that SAPS has a relationship with strong organisations (in the community).”