The video shot on March 30th, 2020, by AmaBhungane, an investigative journalism organization that focuses primarily on exposing political corruption in South Africa, contains scenes of violence from a policeman in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, against people who are “accused of” breaking lock-down rules.
In plainclothes, the police seen in the video is running after people with his whip and beating them, as his acquiescence to the orders from the “higher up.” Amid such police brutality, a crowd from what appears to be a vertical slum or a shabby apartment complex cheers from above, as the person being chased runs away from the officer.
The sound of the cheers is analogous to that of a football/soccer match, an extremely disturbing resemblance that made me question if the noise could have ever been, at least for some, a reflection of the scene of tension and violence being considered entertainment of some sorts.
Perhaps this assumption came from the experience of reading the following lines from Welcome to Our Hillbrow, which made me wonder if the person being chased could be by any chance a Makwerekwere:
Makwerekwere knew they had no recourse to legal defence if they were caught. The police could detain or deport them without allowing them any trial at all. Even the Department of Home Affairs was not sympathetic to their cause. No one seemed to care that the treatment of Makwerekwere by the police, and the lack of sympathy from the influential Department of Home Affairs, ran contrary to the human rights clauses detailed in the new constitution of the country (23).
The name of the organization that shot this short clip, AmaBhungane, means “dung beetles” in isiZulu, the primary indigenous language of South Africa. The center claims, according to its Twitter profile, that they are “digging dung, fertilizing democracy.” And it is thanks to the efforts of investigative (and citizen) journalism like AmaBhugane that accounts of police brutality and the want of public sympathy as shown in the YouTube video can be publicized to people and possibly contribute to holding the authorities accountable if any abuse of their power occurs.
Through platforms such as YouTube and social media, the repeated patterns (and histories) of police brutality from the United States and Hong Kong to Nigeria and South Africa have been exposed to the world. Perhaps one of the ‘us versus them’ narratives that could be of focus in close-reading Welcome to Our Hillbrow is the relationship between the civilians and the police. While the efforts of AmaBhugane in sharing this video with the world helps to understand how police brutality is NEVER an issue that is confined to the United States, which is a misconception particularly common among the non-U.S. nationals, the following reply to a comment of the video further adds to an unfortunate and disturbing fact regarding the reality in Hillbrow:
“Hillbrow, scary? You have not seen the half of it.”
Link to AmaBhungane’s Twitter.