JOHANNESBURG – The wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela on Wednesday attended a memorial service for the man who died in police custody after being dragged by a police vehicle in an incident filmed by onlookers.
Several hundred people gathered at a stadium Wednesday to remember Mido Macia, a taxi driver from Mozambique who died last week. The event was in Daveyton township east of Johannesburg, where Macia was detained by police in an incident that attracted global attention because of widely circulated, graphic footage of his harsh treatment at the hands of police.
Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, is the widow of former Mozambican President Samora Machel, who died in a plane crash in 1986. She criticized police conduct in Macia’s death, saying officers are supposed to shield South Africans from the high rate of violent crime.
“When you see police that is expected to protect people behave the way it does, it just becomes clearer and clearer that we have a big trouble that we have to deal with,” said Machel, who spoke with Mozambican compatriots who are friends and family members of Macia.
The memorial was organized by the African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party.
Eight police officers have been charged with murder for Macia’s death. Their bail application was postponed to Friday.
South African police, meanwhile, celebrated a national day in their honour with gatherings in stadiums and other venues.
A statement released by police in Gauteng, a province that encompasses Daveyton township, referred to the death of taxi driver Macia as “shocking,” but said police have “made a commitment to reinforce policing and get closer to the local communities.”
The statement also said police planned to fight corruption within its ranks, introducing a hotline in which complaints about graft can be reported anonymously and in any language.
South Africa’s police watchdog said there were 232 deaths in police custody and another 488 deaths as a result of police action in the fiscal year running from early 2011 to early 2012.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate said the numbers represented a 10 per cent drop over the previous year.
“Although these numbers are still unacceptably high, they have come down considerably over the last four years,” the watchdog said.