By Sello S Alcock
Police shot dead more suspects in the year to April 2009 than in any other year over the past decade, according to the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD).
The latest figures, tabled in Parliament in June, reveal that 556 suspects — including 32 innocent bystanders — were shot and killed by police between April last year and March 31 this year.
Research by David Bruce, of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), shows that the 2008-9 figure is not far off the 1976 tally of 653 people shot dead by the apartheid police at the height of black student protests.
The highest-ever recorded number of shootings of civilians is 763 in 1985 — the year that marked the start of South Africa's five-year state of emergency.
The figures take on added significance following the extraordinary weekend police killing of 30-year-old Olga Kekana in Mabopane, near Pretoria, who was on her way to a party in a car with three friends.
The ICD started recording the number of deaths as a result of police action only in 1997.
But in a study titled Interpreting the Body Count: South African statistics on lethal police violence, Bruce was able to piece together information from the apartheid era.
"There was no reporting mechanism in place and all deaths were handled by the police themselves — therefore there was no way of knowing the real number of deaths due to police action," ICD spokesperson Moses Dlamini told the Mail & Guardian this week.
He added that "a reporting framework" was put in place to address the reliability of figures provided by the police.
In the Mail & Guardian online