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Monday, 19 November, 2001, 15:25 GMT
Guilty plea from four SA policemen
Video showing suspect being attacked by police dogs
The video provoked debate about racism
Four of the six white South African policeman filmed setting their dogs on a group of black men have pleaded guilty to assault charges at the beginning of their trial.

It is a classic example of racism and the abuse of power

Analyst Gareth Newham of the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

Pretoria High Court officials said they will be sentenced as early as this week, while the other two who have pleaded not guilty will begin their own full trial process.

The charges stemmed from a video discovered late last year showing the six officers laughing and jeering as their dogs savaged three black men.

The broadcasting of the video provoked an intense public outcry and raised concerns about continuing racism among South African police years after the end of apartheid.

The graphic video, filmed by one of the six white officers in early 1998, captured another defendant describing the attack as a dog training exercise.

'Racism and abuse'

"There will be lot of interest in this case and it will be examined closely," said Gareth Newham, an analyst at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

"It is a classic example of racism and the abuse of power," he told the Reuters news agency.

The dogs savaged the legs, arms and faces of the three black men, later identified as illegal Mozambican immigrants.

Two of the defendants
The policemen may be sentenced this week
The policemen ignored their desperate pleas for mercy, encouraging the dogs to attack while kicking and punching the men when they tried to fend off the animals.

Four of them entered a guilty plea to all three charges of assault, corruption and attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

In statements read out to the court they acknowledged that they had urged their dogs to savage the man with the intention of teaching the younger inexperienced dogs how to bite during an attack situation.

Two of the policemen also confessed that an entry in the police log relating the events of the day had been falsified.

They claimed that their victims had resisted arrest, which is why the dogs had been unleashed, resulting in the Mozambicans being taken to hospital.

Judge Willem van der Merwe ruled within half an hour of the guilty pleas being submitted, finding all four men guilty on all the charges of assault.

As part of a plea bargain, the state prosecutor then withdrew the additional charges of corruption and attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

The prosecution has said it will be arguing in support of a jail sentence for the guilty officers.

Racial tension

There were no demonstrations at Monday's trial appearance, unlike previous bail hearings which drew hundreds of angry black protesters.

Scene from the police video
The policemen said they were training the more inexperienced dogs
Demonstrators at previous protest carried banners with the anti-white slogan "one settler, one bullet".

Several recent cases involving white on black violence in South Africa have resulted in what are widely perceived as lenient sentences for the white offenders.

This trial is bound to provoke more anguished debate about the divisions which persist - not just in the South African police force but in society as a whole.

The three Mozambicans, who have been in a witness protection programme since the police were charged, are still expected to testify.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips reports from Pretoria
"This trial has provoked strong feelings"
See also:

28 Aug 00 | Africa
South Africa's new racism
22 Nov 00 | Africa
SA police dogs 'should be killed'
29 Aug 00 | Africa
Apartheid 'still alive' in SA
30 Aug 00 | Africa
South Africa: Racism runs deep
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