THE Ficksburg Regional Court on Thursday acquitted all seven police officers accused of the death of local protester Andries Tatane.
Regional magistrate Hein van Niekerk found the state could not prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
Tatane died on April 13 2011 after police used rubber bullets and batons to subdue him during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg. The case received huge media attention after footage of the alleged assault by police members was broadcast nationally.
The SABC television footage showed a group of police officers beating Tatane with batons, after which he was seen holding his chest and looking down at blood on his chest. He collapsed and died 20 minutes later.
On Thursday, the Ficksburg court was packed, with several police officers present. Tatane’s wife, Rose, and other family members sat in the front row of the public gallery. People were also sitting on the steps and floor of the small court room.
Last week, two policemen testifying for the state had claimed they were threatened into making statements to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.
Neither could identify any of the accused officers in a video of events at the protest, because the accused were wearing helmets, according to an SABC news report.
One state witness, Const Kabelo Pule, was discredited last year when he alleged that the police had used excessive force when restraining Tatane, but claimed in an internal hearing that the opposite had happened.
The case was postponed in 2012 after the state cast doubt on its own witness, Capt Matshidiso Lesomola, who was an observer at the protest.
Tatane’s death was also investigated by the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) after a complaint by the Council for the Advancement of the Constitution.
In November last year, the HRC reported that police had used "excessive force" and violated many of Tatane’s rights, including his right to protest and his right to life.
It had, however, looked only at whether Tatane’s rights had been violated.
"We are aware of the extreme challenges the police are facing, The increasing use of force by the police was in response to increasing violent crime and police killings," HRC commissioner Danny Titus said at the time.