“They shot Lockies!”
On August 26th, 16-year-old Nathaniel Julies left his home to make his evening rounds around his neighborhood of Eldorado Park in Soweto township. A teenager with Down syndrome from just outside of Johannesburg, Julies was known by his neighbors for his dancing prowess and routine of frequenting local shops hoping that someone would buy him his favorite treat, chocolate chip cookies. After making it to the store for his nightly cookie run, the shop’s owner encouraged Julies, affectionately known as “Lockies,” to go home before the COVID-19 curfew would be enforced. At 9 p.m., the storeowner heard a loud pop and a wave of screams from several neighbors.
“They shot Lockies!”
Fifty years ago, South Africa’s police force was instructed to maintain the nation’s racial segregation system, apartheid. Under apartheid, the people of South Africa were classified as either Bantu (Black Africans), Coloured (mixed race), Asian (meaning Indian and Pakistani), or white. The National Party government’s series of Land Acts redistributed 80% of the country’s land to South Africa’s white minority, forcing its non-white majority into underdeveloped residential districts called townships to physically preserve the separation of races. To maintain the status quo of segregation, the South African Police Force became militarized and was given broad power to maintain law and order and quell any signs of insurgency.
However, a white minority police force could not control the nation’s non-white majority alone. Therefore, the South African police remedied its numbers problem with kitskonstabels, meaning “instant constables” in Afrikaans. Kitskonstabels were non-white officers trained in six weeks and charged with policing townships. The use of kitskonstabels played into the apartheid government’s scheme, as it created further division between racial groups. Copied from the British colonialist playbook, the implementation of kitskonstabels was a form of retribalization designed to burden the non-white majority with a separate, unfair legal system. The kitskonstabels were set loose in townships, equipped with shotguns, whips, and handcuffs while concurrently lacking proper training or accountability. As a result, kitskonstabels developed a reputation for brutality and corruption; they came to be viewed as traitors within their communities for perpetuating the atrocities of the apartheid regime. As the Human Rights Commission described, South Africa was “notorious for granting largely unlimited powers to the police to use deadly force when effecting arrests and [this force] was widely used as an instrument of oppression by the police.”
After Nelson Mandela and the ANC assumed power in South Africa, bringing an end to the National Party’s era of apartheid, the new government passed legislation to create a police force that accurately represented the nation’s diverse peoples and protected their human rights. As a result, the country transitioned to more community policing in the hopes of creating a more democratic form of law enforcement. The government even rebranded the South African Police Force to the South African Police Service to highlight its new vision and purpose—to serve the public, not confront it with excessive force.
Despite the positive change that has undoubtedly occurred in South Africa since the 1994 transition of power, the structural inequity created and sustained by decades of apartheid still exists today and plays a role in the public’s relationship with police. Income inequality, poverty, and unequal access to opportunity remain and have led to high crime rates. Similarly, tensions created by a history of racial classifications and segregation still inform how citizens view modern South African police. While the staff of the South African Police Service may look like and come from the communities they aim to protect, it’s still hard for many South Africans to view them favorably after years of brutal oppression. Furthermore, the modern South African Police Service has been criticized mainly for its corruption and excessive use of force, as police killings have become more common. Many South Africans, especially the non-white majority, remain skeptical of how genuine police reform in South Africa has been.
“They shot Lockies!”
Nathaniel “Lockies” Julies died on August 26th at the hands of three charged police officers. Lockies was of mixed heritage, and, out of the three police officers being held responsible for his death, two were also of mixed heritage while the third was Black. It is believed that the officers stopped Lockies on his walk home for questioning and shot him when his impaired speech abilities failed to produce a coherent response to satisfy the officers. However, much remains unknown about that night’s actual events as authorities initially tried to cover up Lockies’s death as a gang-related incident. Ultimately, Lockies’s story reopened old wounds in his community—a community historically oppressed and victimized by police. Eldorado Park was soon covered in a mix of scattered funeral flowers, tear gas vapor, and rocks from protestors who carried signs with slogans like “Coloured Lives Matter” and “Say His Name” during subsequent rioting held in Lockies’s honor.
Sadly, what happened on August 26th, 2020, serves as another reminder to the Rainbow Nation that racial tensions and inequalities survive in post-apartheid South Africa. As the Eldorado Park community of Soweto seeks justice for Lockies, it also seeks justice for a more equitable future where township mothers and fathers no longer fear for their innocent children. Since police killings in South Africa continue—as one estimate suggests one South African dies at the hands of the police each day—marginalized communities collectively feel like their voices are not heard and that their lives are not valued, just like in the days of apartheid.
While most of the world has never heard of Nathaniel “Lockies” Julies, Eldorado Park remembers him.
His life mattered.