The Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons received over 2,000 complaints of assaults against prisoners by prison warders between April 2008 and March 2009. In October, a provision in the new Correctional Services Amendment Act, which compels prison officials to report any use of force to the Inspecting Judge immediately, became operational. Overcrowding remained a serious problem, with 19 prisons "critically overcrowded".
- Sidwel Mkwambi died in February while in the custody of the Bellville South Organized Crime Unit (OCU). Police claimed he had jumped out of a moving police vehicle, but his injuries were not consistent with their claims. In May, the provincial minister for police ordered them to co-operate with the ICD-led investigation. The ICD referred the case to the prosecuting authorities for a decision on charges against 14 members of the OCU.
In September, the Minister of Police and the National Commissioner of Police announced legislative and other measures to respond with maximum force against armed criminals and perpetrators of attacks against police officers.
In June, the ICD reported a 15 per cent increase in deaths in custody and "as a result of police action" over the past two reporting years. KwaZulu-Natal province showed the highest increase, 47 per cent, from 175 to 258 deaths.
- Bongani Mkhize, chairperson of the Maphumulo Taxi Association, was shot dead by members of the National Intervention Unit on 3 February, allegedly after he opened fire on them. His death, which appeared to be linked to investigations into the murder of a police commissioner, occurred despite a ruling three months earlier by the Durban High Court restraining police from "unlawfully killing" him. The court heard evidence that his name was on a list of suspects, all of whom by October that year had been shot dead, several after being arrested and interrogated by the police.
- An unidentified man was shot dead on 29 October in Durban while apparently fleeing the police after a suspected vehicle theft. Witnesses heard gunshots and saw his body hanging on a security fence near an apartment building. The police attempted to mislead independent investigators and also told the media that he had electrocuted himself on the fence. However, medical evidence indicated he died from a high velocity gunshot injury to his spine. There was no evidence of electrical injury.
Right to adequate housing - forced evictions
In September, leaders and supporters of the community-based economic and social rights movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (Abahlali), fled their homes in the Kennedy Road informal settlement near Durban, following an attack by armed men. Their houses were destroyed and they were threatened with further violence. The attackers identified their targets by name and in ethnic terms, as amaMpondo (Xhosa-speakers). Subsequently 13 Abahlali supporters, all Xhosa-speakers, were arrested and charged in connection with the deaths on 27 September of two men during the night of the attack. However, no charges were brought against anyone for the attacks on Abahlali supporters. By the end of the year, one of the 13 arrested Abahlali supporters had charges against him withdrawn, and 12 still faced charges, with seven of them released on bail.
In October, the Constitutional Court declared section 16 of the KwaZulu-Natal Elimination and Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act 6 (2007) to be inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid. The case against the Act had been brought in the courts by Abahlali in 2008. The October ruling affected thousands of people living in informal housing and with insecure land tenure.
Despite the impact of their successful litigation, Abahlali's community-based work remained severely disrupted by the violent events of September.