PRESIDENT Frederik de Klerk is facing unprecedented pressure to overhaul the South African police after one of South Africa's leading medical pathologists alleged yesterday that the killing of prisoners in police custody was "out of control."
The disclosures follow findings by a British criminologist, commissioned to investigate police handling of the Boipatong massacre on June 17, that the police response was "seriously incompetent" and its organizational and procedural structures were "woefully inadequate."
As pressure mounted on Pretoria to control police activity, South African church leaders called on United Nations special envoy Cyrus Vance to sanction the immediate creation of an internal peacekeeping force - independent of all government armed forces.
Western diplomats and South African academics who have studied the police express doubt that the problem could be solved internally.
"This is a deeply ingrained disease which is the result of four decades of apartheid rule in which the main task of the police was to enforce racist laws and destroy the enemy of apartheid," a Western diplomat says. "It is not something you can turn around in a year or two."
The concerns expressed by the diplomat were manifested yesterday by the revelations of one of the country's top pathologists.
"I have constant evidence of police handling people in a vicious manner," Jonathan Gluckman told the Sunday Times of Johannesburg in a rare interview. "My impression is that they are totally out of control. They do what they like." Dr. Gluckman was the physician who gave evidence for the family of Stephen Bantu Biko, the black consciousness activist who was bludgeoned to death in a police cell in Port Elizabeth in 1977.
Gluckman took the rare step of opening to the Sunday Times more than 200 files of post-mortems he performed on people who died in police custody. "Ninety percent of the people in these files, I am convinced, were killed by the police," he said.
The pathologist told the newspaper that he has written twice to President De Klerk about the matter over the past nine months. On June 25 he received a letter from De Klerk which said he would hear from him "in due course."
Gluckman also said that six months ago he contacted police commissioner Gen. Johan van der Merwe and told him that he had evidence of "straightforward murder by the police."
"He thanked me very much and that was the last I heard from him," Gluckman said.
He said he also had met with Law and Order Minister Hernus Kriel and Correctional Services Minister Adriaan Vlok in February and briefed them. They had expressed "shock" but nothing came of the meeting.
Gluckman said the incident that finally made him go public with his observations of police brutality was the case of a 19-year-old boy from the township of Sebokeng, Simon Mthimkulu, whose battered body was found in the bush 12 days ago, 12 hours after he had been arrested by police on July 14.
According to affidavits in the hands of human rights lawyers, Simon was beaten, punched, and kicked by police. A rock was thrown at his chest several times. Gluckman said the injuries were consistent with the affidavits.
"This is a 19-year-old boy not charged with an offense ... tortured, ill-treated, and killed. He could have been a son of mine," Gluckman said. "I get sick at heart about the whole affair. It goes on and on. I don't know how to stop it. I don't think the government knows how to stop it."
Law and Order Minister Kriel, responding to the Sunday Times interview, said he had ordered a full investigation into all deaths in detention over the past two years and would act within two weeks after receiving the reports. He said he had discussed the matter with De Klerk.
Prior to the Gluckman revelations, the African National Congress (ANC) described the Boipatong report by British crimi- nologist Dr. P. A. J. Waddington as a "damning indictment" of the quality of policing in South Africa, and said it demonstrated the urgent need for joint control of the security forces.
Significantly, the ANC did not pursue its initial claim that the police were directly involved in the massacre. The Waddington report could find no evidence of such involvement.
The South African police has responded to criticism by the British criminologist by announcing urgent steps to improve its investigations as well as speeding up an internal probe into training, efficiency, and command and control techniques.
The church leaders, meanwhile, met UN envoy Vance in Johannesburg Friday after an emergency meeting that day to discuss the crisis facing the country. Their proposal for an independent internal peacekeeping force was seen as a last-ditch bid to avert confrontation when a two-day general strike initiates a week of nationwide protests Aug. 3.
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who met Mr. Vance separately Friday, said he feared that the planned week of mass action could lead to anarchy. The envoy, who was instructed by UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to visit the country to find ways of ending political violence and restarting negotiations, has met the leaders of all the major political groups.
The church leaders proposed that an internal peacekeeping force could either be made up of a new unit trained for the purpose or could be drawn from the existing security forces and retrained.
They said the new unit should be backed up by an international monitoring team with investigative powers and that the two should work closely together. They should both work in conjunction with community-based internal peace monitoring groups. They also proposed an "international ecumenical monitoring system" which would cooperate with all three groups.