All South Africans have a right to live in safety,but po­lice min­is­ter’s re­ac­tion to fight­ing crime does lit­tle to in­stil faith in SAPS,writes

The Sunday Independent - - DISPATCHES -

THE first duty of any state, as any stu­dent of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence will tell you, is to en­sure the se­cu­rity of its cit­i­zens. There is no doubt that South Africa is fail­ing in this re­gard.

With the re­cent re­lease of crime statis­tics, South Africans are all talk­ing about the fright­en­ing lev­els of crime. Car­jack­ings have in­creased by an as­ton­ish­ing 14.5% and rob­bery, sex­ual of­fences and mur­ders have also risen.

It’s clear that vi­o­lent crime is out of con­trol and has been since the 1980s. Po­lice bru­tal­ity is spi­ralling out of con­trol and po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence, within the rul­ing party and against grass­roots ac­tivists, is es­ca­lat­ing.

The poor are most at risk as they sel­dom re­ceive sup­port from the po­lice, can’t af­ford pri­vate se­cu­rity and don’t live be­hind high walls.

But it is the fears of the mid­dle classes that drive our public dis­course about vi­o­lent crime. And farm mur­ders al­ways make big news; as we have seen in re­cent days. Their fears are le­git­i­mate. We all have a right to live in safety.

How­ever, the prob­lem when the de­bate about crime is dom­i­nated by the mid­dle class is that all poor peo­ple are of­ten rep­re­sented as a threat when nei­ther crime nor vi­o­lence can be re­duced to any class of peo­ple.

The fear of vi­o­lent crime is very real and Bheki Cele, a man who rose to power in the ANC in the 1980s, had con­sid­er­able sup­port for his skop, skiet and don­der ap­proach to crime when he was com­mis­sioner.

And it seems that our flam­boy­ant po­lice min­is­ter, Fik­ile Mbalula, also en­joys sup­port for his “crush their balls” and “make them drink urine” ap­proach.

Many cit­i­zens feel that hu­man rights ap­proaches to polic­ing have failed and that it is time to get tough. These sen­ti­ments con­tinue to drive public sup­port, across race.

But a “shoot to kill” and “crush their balls” ap­proach to crime has not solved the prob­lem. This is not sur­pris­ing. In­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence shows that an es­ca­la­tion of po­lice vi­o­lence tends to sim­ply es­ca­late crim­i­nal vi­o­lence.

What works is the de­vel­op­ment of an ef­fi­cient po­lice force that is able to se­cure high rates of ar­rest and con­vic­tion. This is some­thing that we se­ri­ously lack.

Fur­ther­more, the ma­cho ap­proach to polic­ing driven by Mbalula has wors­ened the cul­ture of vi­o­lence in the force with the re­sult that many of­fi­cers feel that they can en­gage in vi­o­lence with im­punity.

This is of­ten sadis­tic day-to-day ha­rass­ment of or­di­nary cit­i­zens and is some­thing that the mid­dle classes are be­gin­ning to suf­fer too. We can­not con­tinue to en­dure such high rates of vi­o­lent crime, and de­ci­sive ac­tion needs to be taken to halt the tide of po­lice bru­tal­ity and the in­creas­ing politi­ci­sa­tion of the po­lice force.

How­ever, the politi­ci­sa­tion of the force suits the rul­ing elite and so it’s clear that pres­sure for an in­de­pen­dent and pro­fes­sional po­lice force will have to come from so­ci­ety.

The first de­mand for a civil so­ci­ety cam­paign for a demo­cratic and ef­fec­tive po­lice force must be for a re­ver­sal of the dis­as­trous mil­i­tari­sa­tion of the po­lice.

We should im­me­di­ately re­vert to a civil­ian model of polic­ing.

It is also es­sen­tial that the over­sight mech­a­nisms that mon­i­tor polic­ing be granted gen­uine in­de­pen­dence and suf­fi­cient re­sources to do their work.

And a very se­ri­ous at­tempt needs to be made to raise the ed­u­ca­tion lev­els of re­cruits to the force and to of­fer them world-class train­ing in mod­ern polic­ing tech­niques.

We should never for­get that polic­ing is a dif­fi­cult, dan­ger­ous and highly stress­ful job and that we all owe a huge debt to those men and women in the force who carry out their du­ties with courage and hon­our.

But, hav­ing said that, polic­ing in South Africa is in an abysmal state. When many peo­ple fear the po­lice as much as any crim­i­nal, things re­ally are in a mess.

Polic­ing will al­ways be con­tentious and there will al­ways be prob­lems. But this doesn’t mean that real re­forms can’t be made to­wards de­vel­op­ing a pro­fes­sional and non- po­lit­i­cal po­lice force. There are a num­ber of ex­am­ples of coun­tries where this has been achieved.

One such ex­am­ple is the UK. In the 1970s and early 80s the po­lice force was vi­o­lent, racist and, along with racist stop-and-search prac­tices that tar­geted black youth, it was also will­ing to man­u­fac­ture false ev­i­dence against Ir­ish men.

But af­ter the Brix­ton Riots of 1981, riots that were largely a re­sponse to racist polic­ing, the state took stock of the sit­u­a­tion and made se­ri­ous re­forms.

More grad­u­ates were em­ployed as po­lice of­fi­cers, there was an ag­gres­sive af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion pro­gramme in the po­lice force, over­sight mech­a­nisms were strength­ened and po­lice were given much bet­ter train­ing.

The Bri­tish po­lice force is not with­out its prob­lems to­day. But the point is that there was a vast im­prove­ment and, with the right po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment, we could achieve the same here.

It is up to us, as so­ci­ety, to cre­ate the pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment that will gen­er­ate the po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment that is re­quired to solve our polic­ing cri­sis and, thereby, the re­lated cri­sis of vi­o­lent crime.

Im­raan Buc­cus is a se­nior re­search as­so­ciate at ASRI, re­search fel­low in the School of So­cial Sci­ences at UKZN and aca­demic di­rec­tor of a univer­sity study abroad pro­gramme on po­lit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion. He pro­motes #Read­ing Rev­o­lu­tion via Books@An­tique at An­tique Café in Morn­ing­side, Dur­ban.

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