Blacks fear for their safety in Johannesburg

Lloyd Dymond

BBC South Africa

When Ahmud Arbery was gunned down by police in Soweto a year ago, it turned into a national incident. But many South Africans felt their voices were rarely heard, let alone respected. How could this young Black man, despite having a rap sheet for serious offences and serving jail time, be shot dead? It is an issue that faces many Black people living in South Africa. Local media say an organisation of senior Black officers have now formed an internal investigation into Ahmud’s death. Ahmud is in the House of Wax in the most posh township in the city – Soweto. At first glance you could not call it “black” – there are plenty of well-heeled Whites here, as well as a large number of Indian, Asian and other non-descript-looking residents. The feel of the place is of an old-fashioned posh enclave. But the homes are relatively average compared to Soweto as a whole. Ahmud’s friends describe him as a kind and gentle man. Most visitors seem to be English, or Asian, or White. Ahmud had a rap sheet The best view is from the window of the car that driven by Ahmud’s friends, who have come to mourn him. There is a particularly strong feeling of loss on the car’s door panels, which are decorated with the many kisses Ahmud had sent to his friends and family from prison. There is a large green plastic flower and a tear drop or two on the window: a rose or two to remind one of the times Ahmud had brought them flowers. Ahmud, who had been out on parole, was shot dead when he refused to give up his gun. Many people in Soweto believe it was an accident, while others think it was a planned assassination. Some South Africans fear that Ahmud’s case has got to a point where Pretoria’s “high standing” in the international arena, has made it difficult for the police to show their capabilities. Some are beginning to wonder about whether their local police force is able to protect them. The government takes the view that Ahmud’s killing was an accidental shooting, and that officers will go on to the high-stakes job of investigating the killing as it is clear that there was a failure in their protocols. According to Eyewitness News, the government is ignoring a number of calls for a special inquiry into Ahmud’s death. The Soweto Shooting Crisis Committee says “the situation is out of control”. It suspects an “irregular officer-involved shooting” because, it argues, Ahmud was not able to tell the officer that he had a firearm when he reached the car as police had warned him he would be. Some say Soweto is too dangerous to report a crime on the pretext of police “indemnity” which is seen as lenient treatment and recommends that Ahmud’s case be used as a “model” to show the problems of police impunity. We have to remember that in 2010 there were 4,257 people killed by police. Some say this figure is bound to rise as a result of Ahmud’s killing. One idea, pushed by some prominent media figures in South Africa, to teach Black children how to shoot is to deliver a lecture to the children at both the end of their primary and secondary education in the form of a test. But it is not going to happen, say education experts, because it is not suitable for young children. Ahmud’s friends say he did not believe in violence – and they feel if something had happened to their own children, the teachers would not have taught them to shoot. One of Ahmud’s friends calls him “nice”. At the funeral he would mention how “nice” he thought each of the attending Black people in the crowd would be, and they would all rise to say how nice it was to be invited. But it is true that Ahmud’s friends do not feel safe here. At the back of the car is a notice informing visitors of a ban on protests on the grounds of Ahmud’s funeral home, which may come to be the scene of protests or even a march. Ahmud’s friends fear that without proper measures to keep the town safe, Ahmud’s killing could become a “trend” and will eventually claim many more lives.

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