2013-10-28 08:24

 Like many a South African, I awoke today to the news that SA Hip Hop muso Khuli Chana had been shot by members of the SAPS at a garage convenience store in Midrand in a apparent case of mistaking him for a “kidnapper”.

This not only incensed me, as a die-hard Chana fan, but got me thinking about the proclivity of the SAPS to gun down citizens of our country, usually without warning, with seemingly wanton abandon.

I will not delve into the Marikana Massacre or the Mido Macia incident, which have both been extensively reported on, but I ask the reader to keep them in mind as they read this article.

The South African Police was created after the Union of South Africa in 1913. When the National Party (NP) edged out its more liberal opponents in nationwide elections in 1948, the new government enacted legislation strengthening the relationship between the police and the military. The police were heavily armed after that, especially when facing unruly or hostile crowds. Sound at all familiar??? In 2010 the police were 'remilitarised' after having been reorganised on a civilian basis at the end of Apartheid.

Amnesty International has expressed concerns about police brutality, including torture and extrajudicial killings, in South Africa. There has also been concern about brutal training methods for the police. According to Peter Jordi from the Wits Law Clinic:

 "Police Torture is spiralling out of control. It is happening everywhere."

 Brandon Edmonds argues that:

 "The cops prey on the poor in this country."

  In April 2012 an editorial in The Times opined that:

 "It seems torture and outright violation of human rights is becoming the order of the day for some of our police officers and experts warn that the line between criminals and our law enforcement officers is "blurred".

The behaviour of South Africa's police force remain largely unchanged since the apartheid era, former Constitutional Court Judge Zac Yacoob has been quoted as saying. The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) pointed out in a submission to the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, under the government of President Jacob Zuma there has been a “deliberate policy” that involves encouraging greater use of force by members of the SAPS. This policy has beens advanced through the promotion of a semi-formal and illegal doctrine of “maximum force”. CASAC points to several statements and actions to back up this claim, pointing to a statement made by the then Deputy Minister of Safety and Security, Susan Shabangu on 9 April 2008 to the effect that:

“You must kill the bastards (criminals) if they threaten you or the community. You must not worry about the regulations. I want no warning shots. You have one shot and it must be a kill shot. I want to assure the police station commissioners and policemen and women from these areas that they have permission to kill these criminals. I will not tolerate any pathetic excuses for you not being able to deal with crime, you have been given guns, now use them. If criminals dare to threaten the police or the livelihood or lives of innocent men, women and children, then they must be killed.”

 Minister of Safety and Security Nathi Mthethwa told Parliament’s Select Committee on Security on 12 November 2008 that the people involved must be dealt with.

“We don’t believe that, when you are faced… with criminals armed with sophisticated weaponry, the police’s task would be to take out some human rights charter. Because we are in the field, we are in the killing field, where criminals are killing law-abiding citizens. Now we are saying to the police that we ourselves have an obligation as well to strengthen the arm of these task forces. So that they are able, on the field, to teach those people a lesson — fight fire with fire. There’s no other way on that.”

Soon afterwards, Minister Mthethwa proposed amendments to Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act, the legal provision dealing with the use of lethal force “for arrest”, in order to make it easier for the SAPS to shoot and kill people suspected by the police of being involved in crime. The amendment to Section 49 that came into force at the end of September 2012, broadened the powers of the police to use lethal force and contributed to an atmosphere of impunity.

After a public outcry resulting form the increasing lawlessness of the SAPS, in particular two killings by police during this period — that of Olga Kekana (11 October 2009) and a three-year-old boy, Atlegang Phalane (7 November 2009) – the government seemed to tone to down its rhetoric. Government ministers began to use less crude rhetoric, but there was no change in the policy to use maximum force. But it continued to be the policy of government to promote more aggressive use of force by the police and this was accompanied by a sharp increase in the number of deaths of people at the hands of the police.

Despite the central role of the police in defending authoritarian and exploitative societal relations, the media and academic debate on their function in contemporary South Africa has skewed towards the idea that police violence is an aberration which distracts from the institutions true role of ‘combating crime’.

This line is particularly reiterated by the influential Institute for Security Studies, whose researchers are invariably cited in media reports, maintaining that the police have been lead astray by bad policies and that ‘professionalization’ can arrest these developments. Underpinning this is the unquestioned belief that the police are a positive institution in society, whose natural function is to protect the people from crime and harm.

Simultaneously violent crime is spatially concentrated in the poorer parts of the country, a direct product of the living legacy of apartheid's ghettoization and segregation. As journalist Jared Sacks recently observed, rather than the constant government rhetoric of flooding the streets with more police "Dismantling the apartheid city must be the first step in any real crime fighting initiative”.

Indeed we can go further and suggest that the police institution has historically been central in the shaping of such spatial and social division under apartheid rule and that, despite significant differences in mandates and operations, the post-apartheid service is central to the maintenance of inequality and division in present-day South Africa. Rather than simply responding to the consequences of social inequality and serving as the repressive arm of the state, although these roles clearly are central, the police are also constantly engaged in what Mark Neocleous calls the “fabrication” and building of social order

Prior to the foundation of the national South African Police in 1913, the European colonies which became South Africa were patrolled by a variety of policing bodies. Ranging from Boer commandos to mounted units established by the British these institutions were, as noted by the historian Michael Brogden, primarily military in orientation, acting to ensure white dominance against “the indigenous population and against non-white migrant labour”.

Even by colonial standards this entailed exceptional degrees of violence and coercion. As Brogden argues, by the emergence of the South African Police “in no other British dominion…was policing so nakedly an agency of one particular” group “against its opponents”.Along with the racial oppression of African, Indian and Coloured labour in the bourgeoning cities and towns, state forces also entrenched class domination over the white work force with a series of ferocious police and military clampdowns on strikers in the early decades of the 20th Century. The police were at the centre of a much wider apparatus of legal and spatial controls, such as prison camp like worker compounds, townships and fenced locations. Along with brute force, the police were also agents of wider efforts to install a moral order patterned after the vision of the ruling class. For instance, the police archives of Johannesburg in the 1910’s include officers bemoaning “loafing and passless natives” avoiding incorporation into the labour pool, unrest by white miners and the presence of potentially subversive immigrants from Europe.

Apart from enforcing segregation this highlights how the police had a major role within the everyday consolidation of capitalism in South Africa. And while extreme, developments within South Africa took place against an international context of elites experimenting with new forms of “spatial militarism” aimed at controlling the threats posed by urban proletariats and colonial populations.

As colonial segregation consolidated into official Apartheid, the police become ever more brutal and powerful. Under the 40 year rule of the National Party the police presided over a dual system: while the white minority experienced civilian policing, the primary goal of policing over the black population was to prevent political resistance, which the state attempted to achieve through the routinizing of torture, murder and terror. The police were also central to the daily administration of Apartheid through the enforcement of pass laws and curfews. An indication of how deeply the police force penetrated into the daily lives of black people is given within the text of the 1955 Freedom Charter which called for a non-racial democratic society in which“The privacy of the house from police raids shall be protected by law”.

As a result of this legacy, government policy towards the police after the first free elections focused on overhauling the institution from a ‘force’ to a ‘service’. Official rhetoric placed a focus on ‘community’ policing. However, high crime rates and government desire to seem proactive on this meant that by the late 1990’s this type of reform had been superseded by a focus on the ‘war on crime’. In operational practice this meant a resurgence of highly visible clampdowns on‘problem’ areas, often echoing the military-style deployments which were the operational modus operandi of the Apartheid-era police force.

Of course, middle-class people who are fearful of crime and do not bear the brunt of the violence and lawlessness of the SAPS tend to ignore the belligerent statements by politicians and the invisible war on the poor conducted by an insecure, sometimes corrupt, and often badly trained police service.



AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

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