Angry demonstrators set fire to two government buildings Thursday in a central South African town where police beat a protester in an assault that aired on state TV and sparked accusations police were resorting to apartheid-era brutality.
The man beaten Wednesday in Ficksburg was later found dead with bullet wounds. Investigators from the Independent Complaints Directorate, which probes allegations of police brutality, are in Ficksburg to determine who took part in the beating, how the man died and whether police are responsible for the death, directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini said Thursday.
State broadcaster SABC reported the man was shot point-blank. Its blurry footage does not appear to show the shooting.
The death comes after a string of high-profile scandals involving South African police.
Thursday, police spokesman Sam Makhele said about 300 people protested in Ficksburg as their neighbors accused of violence in protests the previous day were brought to court. A small group broke away from Thursday's main crowds and entered two government buildings, setting fires that caused serious damage, Makhele said. He said no injuries were immediately reported in the fires, and that police did not immediately make any arrests.
Dlamini, spokesman for the police watchdog, said police fired water cannons Wednesday at stone-throwing demonstrators who were protesting a lack of municipal services. Dlamini said a younger man tried to intervene when the cannons were turned on older men who were not involved in the protest, and police beat the younger man.
Police minister Nathi Mthethwa issued a statement calling for calm.
It is "unfortunate that a life has been lost but we would like to urge all in society to allow the investigative process to run its course," Mthethwa said Thursday.
His statement went on to urge South Africans to maintain discipline during protests and "not provoke or insult police."
Frans Cronje of the independent South African Institute of Race Relations, which recently researched reports of criminal activity among police officers, said relations between police and the public have been strained since the period when the force was responsible for enforcing apartheid laws.
Cronje said South African police are increasingly seen as undisciplined, and said their commanders must take responsibility for that. But he also said high rates of violent crime make the job of policing in South Africa a challenge that affects officers' morale.
Last year, former national police chief Jackie Selebi was convicted of taking money and gifts from a confessed drug smuggler and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Earlier this year, a government watchdog found that Selebi's successor, Bheki Cele, acted unlawfully in making a deal to lease police offices from a prominent businessman though no criminal charges have been filed.
This month, one of South Africa's highest-ranking police officers was charged with murder in an alleged plot with other cops to murder a rival in a love triangle.
Thursday, the governing African National Congress party called for an investigation into the Ficksburg beating. The ANC compared the officers' action shown on state TV to the tactics of apartheid-era police.
"No amount of wrongdoing by the protesters necessitated such brutality and killing on the part of our law enforcement officers," the party said in a statement.
The ANC also called for a probe into whether state TV should have broadcast "such shocking and disturbing images on its prime time news slot."
The opposition Democratic Alliance accused the ANC government of using "apartheid-era policing tactics" to stifle protests ahead of local elections across the country next month. The opposition party also accused the ANC of resorting to apartheid-era censorship with its call for an investigating into the airing of footage of the beating.