Destabilising the police force could threaten the stability of the entire country, writes
IN 1994 we inherited a militarised state where the police force (now service) had played a central role in propping up apartheid colonialism. Today, South Africa’s police service also faces the threat of infiltration by sinister elements that harbour political and criminal intent. It is no surprise that a strong and popular government such as ours that is seen as an asset for peace and development to other parts of Africa should generate many enemies. The logic is that once you destabilise the police force, you are on your way towards destabilising the country, as well as compromise its social and economic fabric.
In addition to political interests, criminals also work continually to infiltrate the police and to exploit the gains of our hard-earned democracy. In certain cases communities have marched on police stations and alleged that the top echelons of those stations are under the capture of organised criminal gangs. Surely this kind of perception of malaise and betrayal of our people and constitution needs to be reversed.
Often criminals infiltrate the SAPS by first convincing the police that they are not accountable to anyone other than themselves, thereby delinking SAPS members from the people they serve, as if our policing authority simply fell from the sky. Secondly, money is used as a bait and with it false promises of a secure future and the good times. It’s the curse of crass materialism that sadly has come to entrap and enslave some of our people in general, including a few rotten apples in the SAPS.
The belief that SAPS members can do their work without being accountable is incorrect because South African citizens through the constitution are the source of authority for the police.
The assertion that money is power is also incorrect as it is not possible to enjoy wealth in a criminally infested environment. After all, as human beings, one of our principal tasks is to create safety and peaceful co-existence in society. Clearly without safety and security, people are restricted from living life to the fullest and to pursue their individual and collective dreams as they may wish.
Threats to security must be located in the historical evolution of the character of policing in South Africa. Pre-colonial state violence expressed itself in an organised form in that soldiers from Europe were brought in to support “settlers” in the early days of colonialism. Secondly, state violence was communal or structural – during slavery, violence was the main language of power for landlords against workers, particularly on farms. These practices were accepted and endorsed by successive colonial governors – in any event the Americas and parts of Europe were role models.
Post 1910, the soldiers were no longer at the forefront of maintaining colonial and imperial repression. Instead this task became the core function of the police. The police became the suppressive arm of a repressive state, reflective of the class and racial apartheid polarities and interests of the time.
The preamble to our constitution injuncts us to recognise the injustices of the past and to heal the divisions that continue to characterise our society. Since the dawn of democracy, we have taken steps to demilitarise the police and to promote visible and service-oriented policing. The demilitarisation of police structures, rankings, uniform and equipment was done with a view to promoting more creative, socially skilled policing as well as to ameliorate the perception that the SAPS was the army by another name.
There is no doubt that the demilitarisation process will help create the conditions necessary for community policing such as patrolling on foot, which were unrealistic whilst there were levels of hostility towards the police in many areas. Section 195 of the constitution highlights the following principles: participation, accountability, transparency, accessibility and responsiveness.
The police is included in the constitution as part of public administration and, by extension, of the public service. Aligning ourselves to the spirit of the constitution requires three areas of change, namely a new image, re-engineering apartheid infrastructural patterns, and inclusive and participatory development and implementation.
All police should be drilled on the Bill of Rights and its practical implications, and it should be the foundation of all policies. We have to be respected, trusted and known to be incorruptible.
Our police must be accessible. Freedom without access is meaningless. Let’s put our heads together and have a short-and a long-term plan to address the issue.
We need efficient police stations. In the short term, we can explore the deployment of satellite stations; in the long term we need to ensure that we build police infrastructure in all former disadvantaged communities.
We also need to have genuine inclusive and participatory policy making. There needs to be structured engagement with people on the issue of policy formulation beyond the need for compliance.
Our people must be given their chance to say their say. They should have access to shaping the policies. Policymakers need to appreciate why proper community participation is needed, as policies affect the people and therefore they know best how it should be nuanced.
Participation should not only be confined to the formulation of policy. It is important to involve our people in the entire process – the development of policing policy, the administering of policing, and monitoring and evaluation. This will allow for the implementation of policy to be tweaked in accordance with local needs.
Finally, it is imperative to acknowledge that the democratic state is a product of the struggle of the people. It is the people who establish the democratic institutions, including those vested with the power to exercise violence.
The violence exercised by state institutions actually belongs to the people, who entrust the state with this power so as to defend their freedom, ensure peace and development. Thus the constitution states, that: “National security must reflect the resolve of South Africans, as individuals and as a nation, to live as equals, to live in peace and harmony, to be free from fear and want and to seek a better life.” Hence the constitution defines national security as an all-encompassing and holistic concept that enables people to live in peace, enjoy equal access to resources as well as to transform and develop their lives.
The objective of national security goes beyond achieving an absence of war and physical violence. It includes the consolidation of democracy, respect for human rights, social justice, sustainable economic development and protection of the environment.
If we are to achieve all of the above, we will make a significant contribution to the provision of the Freedom Charter that: “All shall be equal before the law,” and particularly that, “the police… shall be the helpers and protectors of the people.” MP Nkosinathi Nhleko is the Minister of Police
OUR PROTECTORS: Members of the police force have an important role in South Africa as they are tasked with helping to consolidate democracy by respecting human rights, maintaining social justice, ensuring sustainable economic development and protecting the environment, the writer says.