Why we don’t trust the cops

2013-03-17 10:00

Many South Africans will remember the fear inspired by the yellow police vans and Casspirs that used to patrol South Africa’s townships. The duties of those “officers” were clear: brutalise and oppress the black majority in order to enforce and maintain a white minority government.

Since the the fall of apartheid, South Africa’s police have had the word “force” replaced by “service” in its name, but how many South Africans today can say they are confident our police are there to protect and serve us, the public, and not the government?

Daily, police and traffic officers can be seen forcing their way through traffic to smooth the way for privileged politicians travelling in blue-light convoys. In police stations, we see portraits of President Jacob Zuma and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

Citizens like Mido Macia are left to die in police cells and the memory of 34 bodies lying in the dust of Marikana on August 16 last year is indelibly printed in the minds of South Africans post democracy.

Unfortunately, a democratic Constitution does not necessarily ensure a democratic police service.

A police commissioner appointed from the ranks of a political organisation will always have a particular idea of who he, or she, is meant to “protect and serve”.

This creates an enabling atmosphere for a police service that exists to protect a ruling elite, while terrifying the general citizenry.

Today, we do not trust police sufficiently to teach children that they should seek out police officers if they are in trouble.

Hundreds, desperate only for jobs and with no ambition to serve or protect citizens, are entrusted with guns, badges and power over the public every year.

Their poor pay makes them susceptible to bribery and corruption.

South Africa needs people who grow up dreaming of serving their country, who want to be heroes and who join our police service to protect members of the public from criminals.

We also need one of these young hopefuls, one who started out at the level of a constable and eventually became a general, to head our police service.

It is only once our police have realised that their political masters are us, the public, that we will be able to say we are free of the apartheid police force.

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