n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - 'Violators and victims' - a historical review of policing in South Africa after a decade of democracy

Volume 17, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



This year South Africa celebrates ten years of democratic rule. Given the legacy the new democratic government was burdened with, there is an obvious focus on human rights, the rule of law, crime and security. The role of the police and other law enforcement agencies is integral to a discussion of these issues. Acknowledging that we are still only a nascent democracy, this article reviews the promises of the government and the concomitant successes and failures in the field of policing.

The paper firstly briefly sets out the initiatives implemented by government to address the issues of policing in South Africa. As a point of departure, the paper recognises the new Constitution - which sets a firm standard for the protection of all human rights and values - as the basis from which all new laws and policy emanate. It divides the interventions of government into two broad categories namely (i) legislative reform and (ii) the promotion of community acceptance and accountability of the police, and sets out the intended purpose and spirit of each.
Secondly, the paper looks at some of the factual realities of policing in South Africa, identifying the police as both victims and violators of the system under which they are required to serve. Specifically, the paper considers the abuse of force by police officers, and police misconduct. It looks at the factors contributing to the failure of community-police partnerships and the consequences of the failure of community policing forums.
The focus then falls on the morale within the police service, and the reasons for the negative attitude of members, and the impact on the service as a whole. More specifically, the facts on the safety of the police and the factors contributing to police killings are also reviewed.
The review integrates formal and non-formal research. It includes factual research findings, and information from official reports, anecdotal evidence from police officers and reports in the popular press, as well as statements and comments of authority figures in the SAPS and government, responsible for the policing and law enforcement agencies.
The article then seeks to bring all the information together to answer the following question: Is the spirit of the new Constitution and the initiatives of the democratic government reflected in the practical realities of policing in South Africa? The short answer is 'no'. South Africa is certainly on her way but one cannot maintain with conviction that policing in South Africa wholly reflects the spirit of the Constitution.

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