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BENONI, South Africa, March 8 (Reuters) - Nine South African policemen pleaded 'not guilty' on Friday to charges of murdering a Mozambican taxi driver who has handcuffed and dragged behind a police vehicle in full view of a crowd of bystanders.
A post-mortem report circulating in the courtroom in Benoni, a mining town east of Johannesburg, said 27-year-old Mido Macia had died of oxygen starvation. He also suffered a range of injuries including "extensive abrasions on the face, limbs and body" and bruises to his back, torso and testicles.
Cellphone footage of the incident taken by a bystander showed Macia scuffling with police after parking his vehicle illegally. He is then subdued and handcuffed to the back of a police truck before the vehicle drives off in front of scores of witnesses. He died later in a police cell.
A Reuters reporter in the court heard the driver of the truck, Lungisa Edwaba, tell the court he had not known Macia was cuffed to the back of the vehicle and had only driven off because someone in the crowd had thrown something at him.
The images, which were broadcast around the world, rekindled memories of apartheid-era police abuses and highlighted the alarmingly high number of people who die in police custody in Africa's largest economy.
According to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the police's main watchdog, nearly 1,000 people died last year in police custody or as a result of police action.
Police commissioner Riah Phiyega blamed Macia's killing on a few bad apples in a massive force.
However, the incident is just the latest in a series of scandals to hit a force already dogged by accusations of brutality, corruption and incompetence.
The lead detective in the murder case against track athlete Oscar Pistorius was removed from the investigation when it emerged he had been charged with seven counts of attempted murder for opening fire on a minibus full of passengers.
Last August, in the bloodiest security incident since apartheid ended in 1994, police shot dead 34 striking workers at a platinum mine. (Reporting by Peroshni Govender; Editing by Ed Cropley and Kevin Liffey)