n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - The experience of transformation by police officers. Findings from a qualitative study conducted in Cape Town, South Africa

Volume 23, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



One of the most significant changes that occurred at the end of Apartheid in 1994 was the transformation of the South African Police and the ten independent "homeland" police forces of the Apartheid era into a combined South African Police Service (SAPS). Not only were the SAPS faced with the democratic imperative of changing the demographic profile of the force, but it also had to adapt to rapidly changing legislation and restructuring challenges. In the context of high rates of serious crime, a number of specialised units covering investigations such as murder and robbery, thought to have performed poorly, were restructured. Some of the detectives were redeployed to station level in order to provide higher skills and enable the investigation of crimes at local level. In Cape Town, where this study was conducted, the illegal firearms unit, the murder and robbery unit, the taxi violence unit and the unit dealing with crimes against the state were closed down and replaced with a single serious and violent crimes unit. Detectives who had previously been stationed at the specialised units were moved to local stations. A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews was undertaken at two police stations in Cape Town and included 15 officers ranging from Inspector to Station Commissioner. This article aims to provide some insight into the contextual environment as well as the attitudes of police officers regarding the transformation process. Issues identified by thematic content analysis were the complaints by senior police officers regarding the lack of discipline within the SAPS since the transformation; employment equity policies; and a lack of motivation among police officers as a result of poor remuneration, low recruitment standards, a shortage of training and human resources as well as stressful working conditions. Based on this study and a review of recent literature, it is concluded that the transformation process and associated restructuring contributed to a lack of motivation and that senior officers felt that they had lost authority. Furthermore, the retirement of police officers and insufficient training cast a heavier burden on those remaining. Rates of serious and violent crimes remain high, thus raising questions about the success of the restructuring process.

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