POLICING IN SOUTH AFRICA AFTER 20 YEARS OF DEMOCRACY
In their 1992 policy document Ready to Governthe ANC declared that the
primary function of the police in a democratic South Africa would be to „prevent‟
crime. In addition, the policy made it clear that the police are expected to
‟guarantee‟ the personal security of citizens and „the free and peaceful exercise
of their constitutional rights.‟ This document set the tone for policing legislation
and policies in the immediate post-apartheid era.
During this period, it was recognised that efforts had to be undertaken to
ensure that the police became an organisation that was seen as legitimate and
trusted in the eyes of most South Africans. This was an important task given
that a vast majority of citizens had a deep mistrust of the police given the
widespread brutality and torture that they had suffered at the hands of the
police force during apartheid.
The 1993 interim Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, for the first time
in the history of this country started to detail the powers and functions of the
police. It also provided for the establishment of community police forums
(CPF‟s) reflecting the new philosophy of community policing and joint problem
solving between the police and the public.Provision was also made for
establishing municipal and metropolitan police services reflecting the
recognition that policing should be responsive to local conditions and
After the dawn of a democratic South Africa in April 1994,great efforts were
undertaken to transform the police from a force to a service. The first task was
to amalgamate the 10 old „bantustan‟ police forces and the South African Police
force into a single new national police agency. In 1995 a new act of parliament
was passed that gave effect to the country‟s first democratic police agency
called the South African Police Service (SAPS)
The first Minister of the newly established Department of Safety and Security,
Sydney Mufamadi, tabled his Green Paper called theDraft Policy Document on
Changeproviding greater detail on what would be expected from the police.
This document raised far-reaching objectives such as demilitarising and
creating a new rights-based culture for the police. Furthermore, there was a
renewed focus on the crime prevention role of the police and their responsibility
„to solve community problemsof crime and disorder‟.
The Green Paper also envisaged the development of a „national crime
prevention strategy‟ (NCPS)which understood that effective crime prevention
required much more than a reliance on the police. The NCPS was developed
following a close partnership between government and civil-society and was
approved by government in May 1996.
Two years later, following similar collaboration between the government and
civil-society, the Department of Safety and Security finalised the 1998 White
Paper on Policing titled‘In Service of Safety (1999-2004).’, Again, this policy
understood that the police had a limited role in solving most community
problems and should be confined to a more traditional law enforcement, visible
policing, crime investigation and public order role..
The NCPS and White Paper were based on the recognition that it was as
important to address the factors that caused crime as it was to rely on the
police for addressing a crime problem already in existence. This resulted in
these policy documents calling a more integrated multi-disciplinary and longerterm approach to crime prevention in which the criminal justice system was but
one of four pillars. The benefit of the collaboration between the government and
civil-society in developing these policy documents was that they were based on
the latest research and experience from international lessons in reducing crime.
Unfortunately however, the newly established democratic state did not have the
capacity to implement these strategies and both became largely dormant.
Crime combating approaches
Crime unexpectedly started to increase in the period where these strategies
were being developed but not implemented. In the five year period ending in
2002/03 crime increased by 30% from roughly two million reported cases to its
peak of approximately 2,6 million cases. This substantial increase resulted in
growing pressure on the government to be seen to be doing something
immediately about the problem. The problem with tried and tested crime
preventionapproaches is that they require long-term efforts aimed at
addressing the root causes and criminogenic factors that drive crime. In an
effort to be seen to be responding quickly, the governmentsattention shifted
almost completely to rolling out high-visibility police and joint police-military
operations. These were characterised by operations such a „Sword & Shield‟ by
SAPS in 1996 anda joint SAPS/SANDF crime combating operation called
„Monozite‟ in 1999.
By 2000, the police were alone given the task of tackling the growing crime
problem and collaboration with civil-society largely ceased as a result.
Furthermore, the National Civilian Secretariat of the Police was downgraded
and independent oversight of the SAPS started to weaken considerably.
In April 2000 a SAPS driven strategy called the National Crime Combating
Strategy (NCCS) was launched for the period between 2000-2005. The
strategy did provide for a longer-term „socio-economic phase‟ until 2020, but as
it fell outside the reach of the police it was never implemented. By 2003/04, the
crime rate started to drop and the police took credit for this changing trend. By
this stage a decision was taken to substantially recruit more police officials
based on the assumption that the more visible the police were, the less criminal
activity there would be. Over the next decade, almost 70 000 new posts were
created in the SAPS and the organisation budget increased in the region of
over 180%. Police visibility improved and people started to feel safer towards
the later part of the decade.
The SAPS was quick to take credit for the notable 25% reduction that occurred
in total crime levels that occurred between 2002/03 and 2007/08. However, the
rate reduction slowed considerably during the two years ending in2009/10, and
the total crime rate increased by 4%, mostly driven byincreases in property
related crime such as commercial crime and burglary. In 2010/11 total crime
decreased by 2.4%, but then increased by almost three percent by 2012/13
when 2 126 537 cases were reported to the police in that financial year.
The net result is that in spite of the promising decrease between 2002/03 and
2007/08, our crime levels have now stabilised at a level well above that of
1994/95 and the most recent statistics show worrying signs of a new upswing
in crime levels. A new dimension to the recent increases is that certain serious
violent crime categories are starting to increase after a long period of
decreases. In 2012/13, for the first time in six years, there is an increase in both
the number and rate of murders and attempted murders. Incidents of murder
increased from 15 609 murders in 2011/12 to 16 259 murders in 2012/13. This
means that there was an increase of 650 murder cases or a 4,2% increase
when comparing the total numbers of murders with the previous year. This
works out to almost two additional murders per day on average during the
2012/13 financial year. South Africa‟s murder rate is therefore about four and a
half times higher than the global average of 6.9 murders per 100 000.
Interpersonal crimes such as murder, assault and sexual offences are not easy
to reduce through policing alone. This is because most (around 60% to 70%)
of murders, attempted murders and rapes, occur between people who know
each other and occur as a result of particular social and economic factors. Only
between 15% and 20% of murders and attempted murders are the result of
aggravated robbery while inter-group conflicts and vigilantism make up the rest.
There has also been an increase in robberies in 2012/13, which is a crime that
the police can directly reduce through employing effective strategies. Robberies
pose a particular concern as they occur when armed perpetrators threaten or
use violence against their victims in order to steal their belongings. This can
result in severe trauma, injury or sometimes death to the victim. The total
number of aggravated robberies reported to the police increased from 101 203
cases to 105 888 cases (an increase of 4 685 cases) or 4.6%.
Total aggravated robbery includes a number of sub-categories, most of which
increased in the 2012/13 financial year:
Street or public robberies increased by 2 534 cases to a total of 60 262 incidents.
This is 4.4% higher than the 57,728 incidents recorded the previous year. It means
that every day on average there were 166 cases of street robbery in 2012/13.
House robberies are reported when people are attacked by armed gangs while
they are in their homes. This crimes increased by 7.1% to 17 950 incidents
representing an additional 1 184 households being attacked when compared to the
previous year. On average 49 households were attacked each day in 2012/13.
Business robberies increased by 2.7% to 16 377 incidents. This crime type has
consistantly increased in the past eight years so it is 345% higher than in 2004/05.
There were an additional 426 armed attacks on businesses in 2012/13 as
compared to the previous year.
Vehicle hijacking increased by 5.4% to 9 990 incidents. This means that 28 motor
vehicles were hijacked every day on average in 2012/13.This is of particular
concern given that most of these cases are as a result of organise crime
The number of truck hijacking increased by 14,9% from 821 incidents in 2011/2012
to 943 incidents in 2012/2013. As with vehicle hijacking, this crime is generally
perpetrated by organised crime syndicates. These increases suggest that
organised crime is on the rise in South Africa.
Street-robbery primarily affects poorer people and typically occurs as they
travel to and from work, school, shopping or while visiting people. This crime
most often happens in quiet streets or overgrown areas as people make their
way to or from taxi ranks or bus and train stations.Street robbery decreased at
an average rate of 7,2% per annum between 2004/05 and 2008/09. An even
larger annual average decrease of 10,4% was recorded in 2009/10 and
2010/11. This changed in 2011/12 when street robbery only decreased by a
In the years when street robbery was decreasing, three types of robberies
known as the „TRIO crimes‟ (carjacking, house robbery and business robbery)
increased substantially. Between 2004/05 and 2008/09 business robbery had
increased by 319%, house robbery by 96% and hijacking by 20%.These crimes
drive fear and insecurity as they affect victims in their homes, vehicles and
places of work.
SAPS management have explained that improved visible policing reduced
street robberies. The increased visibility was the result of the approximately
10 000 additional police officers that were recruited each year on average
between 2002/03 and 2009/10. However, the police believe that this had the
negative effect of pushing robbers to targeting houses, businesses and
vehicles instead. Yet when the police worked hard to improve security in the
run-up to the FIFA World Cup, TRIO crimes stabilised. In 2009/10 there was a
marginal decrease of 1,5%, for the first time in five years. During 2010, these
crimes decreased by a very significant 11,8%.But in 2011/12 the decrease in
TRIO crimes was much smaller (1,3%), which suggested that the police were
starting to struggle in containing these crimes.
We know from research that there is very little that the police or the criminal
justice system in general can do to prevent interpersonal crime (or social fabric
crime as it is referred to by the police). The root causes and conditions at the
heart of these crimes are largely outside the reach of the police and the best
they can do is to improve on their reaction once these crimes are reported to
them, including the efficient investigation of these crimes. The police, like many
of their counterparts elsewhere in the world, have introduced community and
sector policing in the hope that that would allow them, firstly, to make a bigger
contribution towards addressing the root causes of crime and, secondly, to
improve their presence and visibility in communities. These approaches should
ideally improve police service delivery in general and also police legitimacy.
However, expecting the police to be the sole or even primary agent in relation
to addressing the causes of or conditions underlying crime, is to expect the
impossible and is also unfair towards the police. It is here that the multi-agency
approach of the National Crime Prevention Strategy and even the 1998 White
Paper on Safety and Security should be rediscovered if we are serious about
crime reduction in South Africa.
With good crime intelligence and sound planning, the police should be able to
make much greater inroads into organised crime, and in particular violent
property related crimes which form the aggravated robbery sub-categories.
That the police are capable of doing this, was clearly demonstrated during the
FIFA World Cup in 2010. However, the ability of the police to make the gains
needed in reducing certain types of crimes such as robbery have been severly
hampered by what the National Planning Commission referred to as a „serial
crises of leadership.‟
In 2010 the former SAPS National Commissioner Jackie Selebi was convicted
of corruption. Since then there have been three different National
Commissioners with RiahPhiyega who was most recently appointed in 2012.
Nevertheless, in-fighting amongst the top leadership continued and currently no
less than five senior Generals are on suspension. Along with political rhetoric
for the police to use “maximum force” and political interference as is being
evidenced before the Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana massacre,
where the police shot 112 striking mineworkers killing 34 of them, instances of
brutality have been growing. This comes at a time when there is a substantial
increase in violent public protests that have diverted police resources away
from crime combating and started to undermine public confidence in the SAPS.
Fortunately, the National Development Plan 2030 that was adopted by the ANC
and the Cabinet has very useful recommendations that if implemented will go a
long way to improve policing. For example, it recommends that a multi-sectoral
and multi-disciplinary National Policing Board be appointed to oversee the reinvigoration of the senior leadership of the SAPS. It envisages the National
Commissioner, Deputy National Commissioners and other senior leaders being
assessed against clear and objective criteria so as to establish whether they
have the skills, expertise and integrity to manage the important responsibilities
that they are tasked with. It further argues that all these posts should be filled
after a transparent and competitive process that sees only the best men and
women being appointed as leaders in the SAPS.
If these recommendations are followed, then SAPS leadership will be in a good
position to undertake the other recommendations in the NPD such as
demilitarizing and professionalizing the police in line with a solid code of
conduct. After 20 years of democracy, it is important that South Africans put
pressure on the government to implement these recommendations so that we
can all benefit from highly skilled professional police officers who we can trust
to reduce crime and improve safety in all our communities.
Dr Johan Burger, Senior Researcher, Governance, Crime and Justice Division,
Institute for Security Studies
Gareth Newham, Head of the Governance, Crime and Justice Division, Institute
for Security Studies