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South African man dragged to death behind police truck

Video is vivid reminder of apartheid days

JOHANNESBURG — The footage is shaky but unmistakable. A slender black man dressed in a red T-shirt, black pants, and sneakers is tied to the back of a police truck. He kicks. He writhes. The vehicle pulls away, dragging the man behind it. Police officers run along with him. Cellphone cameras snap away.

“What did he do?’’ bystanders shouted.

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“It was him who started it,’’ a police officer replied.

Late Tuesday night, the man, who has since been identified as Mido Macia, 27, a taxi driver from Mozambique, died of head injuries at the Daveyton Police Station, 27 miles southeast of here.

In South Africa, where violent crime, vigilante attacks, and police brutality are daily fare, the video, captured on a mobile phone and first published by The Daily Sun, a local tabloid, has incited outrage for its brazen and outsize cruelty.

‘‘We come across a lot of cases of police brutality,’’ said Moses Dlamini of the Independent Investigative Directorate, which investigates police crimes, in a television interview. ‘‘The police don’t even care that people are watching.’’

For many, the video was a reminder of the harsh treatment meted out to black citizens by white policemen under apartheid, when South Africa’s police force was notorious for its harsh tactics against the country’s black majority.

“If this was apartheid police we’d riot,’’ wrote Zackie Achmat, a prominent social activist, on Twitter.

Back then, the officers were likely to be white and at the command of a racial dictatorship. Now they are almost entirely black, serving a democratically elected government.

After 1994, when apartheid ended and the African National Congress was voted into power in the country’s first fully democratic elections, reforming the police force was a top priority.

Millions of dollars were spent on cashing out apartheid-era officials and recruiting new members to the force. Its emphasis was supposed to shift from controlling black South Africans to serving them.

But a fierce crime wave washed over South Africa in the years after apartheid. Violent crime increased by 22 percent. Murder, carjackings, and armed robberies were endemic. South Africa’s reputation suffered.

The government, under intense pressure to clamp down on crime, enacted tough new policies. Huge recruitment drives added 70,000 new officers and administrators to the force.

Supervisors found they were responsible for twice as many officers, many of them inexperienced and poorly trained. Discipline suffered.

The past year has been a tough one for South Africa’s troubled police force.

In August 2012, officers opened fire on platinum miners engaged in a wildcat strike in the town of Marikana, killing 34 of them in the biggest mass shooting since the end of apartheid.

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