The New Toyi-Toyiby Brandon Edmonds / 03.05.2012
The Joburg Metro police hawker-beating video is apparently 22 seconds of hazy smartphone footage taken by a “bystander”. It shows a poor person being beaten in entirely unconstitutional ways by a group of police officers. There is no watching this recent beating of Andries Ndlovu in Ivory Park without feeling the ghost of Andries Tatane in the room with you. Ndlovu tried to help a sixty year old welder who was being assaulted by cops after protesting the impounding of his scrap metal without a receipt. “I asked the police officers why they were beating up an old man like that? One officer just responded with two punches in my face,” Ndlovu said. So another Andries punished for reminding the new South Africa, the most terminally unequal democracy on earth, of that ever-deepening divide that never stops squirting irony, like eye drops, like fake blood, all over our everyday lives. Too much? Fuck you.
Cops prey on the poor in this country. They do. The poor, the undocumented, anyone unplugged from protective networks of employers, judges, bureaucrats and fixers. Your job, your home, your ID book are the only things standing between you and police harassment. Ask the guy babysitting your car at night. Watch him make a face when you bring up the police. They are out of control and hard-man Zuma likes it that way.
The hawker-beating imagery reiterates the commonplace that smartphones can turn anyone into a Wikileak, a Zapruder now. It also suggests that we are long past the era of great documentary reportage: heroic males, see The Bang-Bang Club, with the “guts” to dodge bullets and bring us the “truth man”.
Revelatory bystander smart phone footage is an explosive revolutionary resource with the potential to unmask the hegemony of normalcy that feeds on our conformity (how else should I put it?). But State forces rely on the gaping chasm between knowing about shit and doing what needs to be done to change it. Only concerted social activism builds solidarities that slap bridges across that chasm.
Anyway, the footage has “sparked an internal probe” according to the Sunday Times. This is Newspeak for somebody quite high up suddenly finding work a very uncomfortable place to be. That kind of rote media language is always a delight. Internal probe. Imagine a big shivering police butt puckered like a mouth as excitable aliens, drunk on the galactic equivalent of Hansa, aim a gleaming phallic device at the palpitating sphincter of the Law. They high five claws as the probe hits home with a ghastly sucking sound. Probe commenced.
The true function of an “internal probe” is to assure us the Police are policing themselves. We know this is not happening, that this is not a self-aware institution guided by our best interests, because the beating happened. Because beatings keep happening. The Times quotes Edmond Elias of the SA National Traders Retail Alliance, saying there is in effect a “criminal syndicate operating freely” in the police force. They have documented hundreds of victims of police abuse, traders beaten, their stock seized, then declared illegal, and banished to the nowhere zone, the ‘bare life’ of philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s ‘homo sacer’ – the one banished from the City and left to wander in homeless oblivion.
Sifiso Makhubu, in the same paper, accused of murdering a police officer, explains how he and four friends were tortured in police custody over a nightmarish 12 hour session. He was handcuffed then his ankles were threaded through his arms like they were turning him inside out. Then they doused him with water and ran a patch of tyre tube over his face as if grating cheese. “While they would tube one,” Sifiso says, “they would spray us with water and shock us with tazers all over – on our faces and between our legs, everywhere. They told us we were going to die.” There are currently, the story continues, “no oversight bodies for all places of detention” ensuring that the UN convention against torture is upheld in the country. The media-led perception of runaway criminality is perfect cover for police transgression.
But no police force can be considered legitimate when it routinely gangs up on the less fortunate and puts them in hospital or worse. The name (disturbingly) was changed from ‘police service’ back to ‘force’ in the zero-tolerance Bheki Cele era, a man morally unfit to muck stables or sell second-hand cars, let alone preside over the most controversial point of contact between a State and its subjects.
The video wasn’t posted on timeslive.co.za – instead the article ran with 7 screen-grabs you could scroll through. If you do it quick enough you can get an eerie early-cinema kind of Eadweard Muybridge stop-motion kick out of them. They’re almost “better” than Roger Ballen and Pieter Hugo put together. More relevant and immediate. More indicative of a nation in moral freefall.
The cops are smeared digital blurs. Abstract shapes embodying enmity. You get a sense of a clear Highveld autumn reigning in the sky. They seem to be dancing on a person not in uniform. It is the perfect betrayal of the Struggle’s signature strut: the toyi-toyi. Instead of dancing for liberation, the cops are high-kicking to break the bones of someone who movingly stood up for someone.