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[PDF] South Africa Twelve Perspectives on the Transition

AmazonGlobal Ship Orders Internationally. Amazon Inspire Digital Educational Resources. Amazon Rapids Fun stories for kids on the go. Amazon Restaurants Food delivery from local restaurants. In the early years of the democratic era, South Africa was awash with ideas brought in from abroad by a left-leaning criminological establishment, one that emphasized the artful business of preventing crime over the blunt business of fighting it.

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New and benign forms of policing were written into the constitution itself, into legislation, and into the South African government's overarching philosophy on crime policy, the National Crime Prevention Strategy, published in How interesting, then, to discover that these newly labelled bottles contained old wine. Under the aegis of such soft-sounding names as crime prevention and community policing, the old paramilitary model of exerting unilateral control over urban space quickly re-emerged: Police ranks were remilitarized, signalling a naked return to an apartheid practice.

This trajectory in policing has provided much food for thought and scholars of the new South Africa have been feasting on the ironies. Why has a democratically elected government gone out of its way to coax it back to life? These questions are intellectually satisfying. They push us to enquire into the limits of transition more generally.

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Perhaps most interestingly, these questions open a window onto how the democratic state is acquiring legitimacy and suggest that an authoritarian populist regime may well be in store. While these questions are undoubtedly important, a preoccupation with continuity risks blinding scholarship to what has changed. In this article I argue that what has changed most since the end of apartheid is the relationship between policing and political order.

This has changed fundamentally and the consequences have been very far-reaching. During apartheid, and especially during its last fifteen years, the structure of the police force, its culture, its ethos, its career trajectories, and its spirit were animated by the task of containing an insurgency against the state. In the democratic era, the structure of the police force, its culture, and its spirit are increasingly shaped by the task of managing conflict in the ruling party. The difference is profound and the implications ripple right to the edges of the organization, fashioning even the manner in which street life is policed.

For instance, the evolution of the management of public crowds, I will argue later, is best understood when considering the uses to which policing has been put in the management of party battles. My argument is that if we want to understand how South Africa is policed, we should be concerned, not just with continuities, but also with a rupture in the relationship between politics and state coercion. To make sense of the trajectory of the last 30 or 40 years of policing in South Africa I draw upon Jean-Paul Brodeur's famous distinction between high and low policing.

There are a number of lacunae, obscurities, and ambiguities in the distinction between high and low policing. Also, it is not certain where high policing ends and low policing begins, for the distinction between fighting crime and defending the political order is famously unclear. Indeed, shoring up a political order by fighting crime is a well-known strategy of governance. We shall see later that both of these ambiguities lie at the very heart of South African policing.

And neither in South Africa nor elsewhere is the distinction between high and low ever clear or unproblematic. Brodeur's delineation nonetheless remains extremely helpful, not least because those tasked with the business of managing states themselves invariably distinguish between high and low policing, even if not in Brodeur's language, and the fact that they do so shapes the nature of policing and police institutions in many ways. Certainly, the distinction between high and low policing has held a central place in the minds of South African state managers, past and present.

Under apartheid, high policing stood at the apex of the South African Police and veritably dwarfed low policing. The national police leadership was invariably recruited from the Security Branch, never from the Detective Service or the Uniformed Branch. The personnel in these latter two branches were in general not as well educated, were understood to have stunted career paths, and played only a pro forma role in shaping the strategic direction of the organization.

The Security Branch, which accounted for just 13 percent of police personnel at its high point in , 8 was the centre of the organization and its concerns shaped the entire organization's priorities. This settled arrangement was rudely shattered at the dawn of the democratic era. Quite simply, the new government did not trust the police organization with matters of state security and systematically suppressed its capacity to conduct high policing.

In its stead, low policing blossomed. Uniformed police leaders were appointed to manage the organization as a whole; discourse about uniformed policing dominated the ways in which policing in general was spoken about. This amounted to a sudden inversion, one that has barely been written about, its implications largely unexplored. In retrospect, this turned out to be a short transitional period; it lasted precisely six years. In , the first black police commissioner in South African history was appointed. Crucially, he was both an outsider — he did not come through police ranks — and an ANC veteran who had lived much of his adult life in exile.

Through him, the ruling party began to establish control over the organization, and, as it did so, it coaxed the organization's high-policing functions back to life. But the purposes for which it used high policing were radically different from those of its apartheid predecessor — the ruling party began to use the organs of high policing primarily to police itself. And so a circle closed. High policing found itself back at the apex of the organization, as it had been under apartheid.

But the animating purposes of the organization had changed, as had its relation to the political order, with a profound impact upon policing in general. The interviews that have informed this article took place during two periods, the first from to , the second in mid- and late When Jackie Selebi was appointed police commissioner in I was a senior writer at the national daily, Business Day , covering, among other areas, the criminal justice system. I was in regular off-the-record discussions with several of the police's senior managers as well as with about a dozen detectives and covert intelligence officers.

Much of the material informing the argument in this article is drawn from my notebooks from that time. The material constitutes something of a running commentary on Selebi's early days, as reported from the inside. Their observations of Selebi's modus operandi were thus neither jaundiced nor prejudiced; their tenor was often one of surprise and disappointment. In , I supplemented this material with four further interviews with former security policemen who had served during the s. Their memories are perhaps inflected with some defensiveness and even nostalgia, but this is less of a concern for the sort of material I was gathering, which was intended to enrich and confirm existing information on the place of the security police in the broader apartheid security apparatus.

The police organization later inherited by South African democracy began to take shape in , the year P. Botha became Prime Minister. This moment marked a turning point in South African statecraft and in the history of state security in particular. Prior to Botha's premiership, the high-policing organs within the South African Police SAP were at the very centre of strategic thinking on state security. It was a police detachment, rather than the army, that was sent to Wankie in Rhodesia in , the scene of Umkhonto we Sizwe's first armed initiative since the banning of the ANC.

Its British-trained, English-speaking officer class lingered into the s, its commitment to the Afrikaner nationalist project dubious at best. Botha's ascent signalled the SAP's decline. For one thing, Botha had spent the past several years as Minister of Defence and had finally built a trusted, Afrikaans-speaking, Nationalist-supporting officer corps.

[PDF] South Africa Twelve Perspectives on the Transition

Moreover, he abhorred the SAP's manner of conducting high policing, which he regarded as amateurish and corrupt. At the centre of Botha's security strategy was a previously moribund interdepartmental bureaucracy called the National Security Management System NSMS accountable to a high-level body called the State Security Council. All manner of government departments were represented in both organs, but the military was at the heart of decision making. From now on, the formulation of security strategy would bypass Parliament, the National Party caucus, and, indeed, the Cabinet. Through the NSMS, swathes of government offices, agencies, and roles became directly accountable to military strategists.

The military under Botha was heavily influenced by French counter-insurgency theory and tried to fashion a hearts-and-minds strategy tailored to South African conditions. More important, for our purposes, is that within the NSMS establishment, the Security Police was assigned an important but decidedly subordinate position. Its role in implementation was seen as decisive, its contribution to strategic thinking minimal. Thus, the SAP's relation both to itself and to other organs of government was shaped primarily by its role in high policing. A former senior-ranking security policeman recalls the s thus: All government institutions, agencies and units functioned as one entity with the same objective: We understood that we were a cog in this machine.

We understood that we took our direction from outside police ranks. When I asked why they wanted me, they said: You have a higher degree and you speak eloquently. We want to train you to operate in those meetings. Yet if the Security Police's involvement in high policing as a whole was that of a junior partner, the fact that it conducted high policing lent it absolute dominance inside the police.

According to an informant who worked in the Security Police from until its demise: The Security Branch was seen as the elite. If you really wanted to advance, you had to go there. And yet only the best went through — to get a nod from them meant that you were special. To rise through the ranks of the Detective Service, or, even worse, the Uniformed Branch, meant little — you weren't really going anywhere. As for the Detective Branch: They were considered primitive by the Security Branch for they had no intelligence capacity at all. They would put their heads down and investigate one crime after another.

They were considered to be robots rather than thinkers. But they were salt-of-the-earth people with an enormous professional ethos and they relished the chance to investigate a Security Branch member. They felt big pride when they were tasked to go after one of the Gods. As for the Uniformed Branch, its relationship with black civilians was considerably more complex than pro forma accounts of apartheid policing may suggest, but there is unfortunately not the space to explore this complexity here.

Within the SAP itself, the Uniformed Branch was considered the bottom feeder of the organization, its members the least educated, its work the least important. And its relationship with black urban civilians was at its bleakest. As the uprisings against apartheid gathered pace in the early and mids, so uniformed police officers who lived in urban townships were forced to flee their homes.

As the uprisings escalated, so recruitment into the Uniformed Branch swelled. While the ratio of police to civilians had been stable for much of the twentieth century, it escalated suddenly and dramatically in the early s, and especially in the late s — between and the total number of SAP personnel jumped from 41, to 85, By the time the ANC was unbanned, it was common cause that the Uniformed Branch was poorly managed, technologically backward, and adept at very little. Most important of all, it was considered something of a virus among the black urban population. In the early s, uniformed officers who returned to the townships where they once lived were figures of shame.

The four-year period between the unbanning of the ANC in and the first democratic elections of was extremely awkward for the SAP. Its leaders knew that the organization would soon have to serve a new dispensation, but the nature of this dispensation was still under negotiation. They knew that the organization would soon have new political masters, but were not sure whether these masters would even tolerate their presence.

Among a host of other measures, the Security Branch was disbanded in and absorbed into the Detective Branch under a new name, the Crime Information Service, tasked with gathering intelligence on organized crime. As the new name suggests, police leaders anticipated that the organization could only survive the transition if it abandoned high policing in toto and transferred its intelligence-gathering knowledge to low policing. And yet, of course, the idea of policing organized crime complicates the distinction between high and low policing in two ways.

First, practices historically associated with high policing — the penetration of organizations by covert means — are transferred to low policing. Whether they realized it or not, what the police leaders of the early s were in effect proposing was that the Security Branch of old be given licence to spy on the politicians and bureaucrats of the new order. This proposition was obviously intolerable to the ANC. In retrospect, it can be said that the decision of the early s to dissolve the Security Branch into the Detective Branch and thus to blur the distinction between the detection of crime and political policing polluted the entire Detective Branch in the eyes of the ANC and signalled its decline.

The ANC came to power at the end of April During its first few months in office, it eased several senior police leaders out of their posts, including the commissioner of police, Johan van der Merwe, and searched for new leaders inside the organization. By early , the organization was under new management. Although many of the new figures were white, apartheid-era cops, they were unlike any leaders South African policing had seen in many decades. Among the most influential new strategists were Uniformed Branch careerists, an unprecedented development. It spoke primarily of uniformed officers; it spoke of them as problem solvers, as officers who developed ongoing relationships with civilian constituencies, and entered into an open-ended dialogue with those being policed.

Uniformed policing, for so long the organization's bottom feeder, became an emblem of policing as a whole. The very language through which South Africa began to understand the transformation in the relationship between cops and civilians was almost exclusively a description of uniformed policing. At police-station level, the detective branch became accountable to the station commissioner, who was invariably a uniformed officer. The detective service was thus humbled and scorned; both its leaders and its rank-and-file understandably took the new course of events as an insult.

A great deal thus changed in a short space of time. High policing, which had until recently commanded the organization as a whole, now disappeared from it completely. How did the blossoming of low policing, and of uniformed policing in particular, change the relationship between police and civilians? It is here that scholars have become too fixated with continuities at the expense of a larger picture that is considerably more nuanced and more interesting.

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It is true that many continuities soon emerged. Township residents, especially younger ones, were not very welcoming of a police presence, despite the new uniforms and the new language, and police often resorted to doing their work in large numbers and with aggression, especially on weekend evenings, in part as a measure of self-defence.

But paramilitary policing only accounted for what uniformed officers did for a very small portion of their working hours. For much of the remainder of their time, they were doing something South African police officers had never done before — they were responding to calls made upon them by black civilians. If this observation is simple, it is deceptively so, for the implications are quite profound.

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Egon Bittner has famously argued that legitimate policing is made possible by the demand for it. When people demand policing, they quite literally pick up the phone and call for it.


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What they are calling for are officers licensed to wield asymmetrical force to intervene in situations where things have spun out of control. Police had certainly entered black people's private space at will, but seldom because they had been called — in the main, they entered people's homes to enforce pass laws.

When democracy came, a dam wall burst; black civilians began calling police in high numbers and police responded. In the eight-year period that I periodically accompanied police on patrol, the uniformed officers I followed, whether in the ghettos of Cape Town or the shack settlements on the periphery of Johannesburg, spent the bulk of their time responding to calls from civilians.

More than anything else, this was what uniformed police now did. Strong historical residues must of course have shaped these police—civilian encounters. The sort of authority police possessed when they entered private black homes under apartheid must have spilled over into post-apartheid encounters, with all the ambivalence that this implies.

But a new relationship was nonetheless being forged. The idea that in a moment of trouble a protective state might be at the other end of the phone, that it would respond personally to your call during moments of strife, was novel in black South Africa, and must surely take an important place in any examination of the phenomenology of citizenship in the early days of South African democracy. It was in these exchanges between people in trouble and uniformed cops that at least some of the unwritten rules of a new relationship between citizens and state were worked out.

These questions are under-studied. South Africa's murder rate began dropping precipitously in the mids. Why it did so remains something of a mystery. It is quite possible that the normalization of policing had a great deal to do with it. After all, it is well established in the history of homicide that murders are seldom premeditated and that most transpire when things get out of control. From the mids on, there was. In any event, a satisfying account of uniformed policing in the early democratic years must speak of a mosaic, or a cacophony, or even of a confusion of clashing elements.

Many things were going on at the same time. Under the aegis of a new language of risk, police were saturating township space in high numbers and behaving at times like an army of occupation. The violence they might mete out in such situations was extreme. He may have done so poorly or reluctantly, or in a manner that caused great damage over time. But that is beside the point. What matters to my argument is that the police were entering into multiple relationships with civilians guided by multiple logics.

Which relationship was activated moved in sync with a range of rhythms — time of day, density of crowds, private or public space, the preponderance of one gender over another among the civilians the police encountered. Scholarship has yet to give an adequate account of these rhythms. One possible reason for this omission is a fixation with continuity. Such a fixation takes a thin and rather frail slice out of a rich and complicated relationship between police and civilians. In , police commissioner George Fivaz's term of office ended.

At the time, Selebi was heralded as South Africa's first black police chief. But the colour of Selebi's skin was less important than two other attributes. The first was that he was not a policeman and was thus tasked with running an organization of which he had no knowledge, and with understanding a profession that was not his own.

To understand the significance of these attributes, one must have a sense of the ANC's circumstances at the time. In politesse, the ANC is referred to as a broad church. In more straightforward language, it is an organization whose social base is immensely varied, the political perspectives it must contain and manage breathtakingly diverse. The ANC's strength at the inception of South African democracy was its capacity to capture as its own the meaning of what it meant to be black and to aspire.

Yet black South Africa was massively plural: All sorts of people cohabit in the ANC and managing the organization entails forging an unlikely consensus. He came to power with a robust sense of what was needed economically, and his plans, which involved tight fiscal management, wage restraint, and limited privatization, were greeted with hostility by a host of ANC constituencies.

And so, the question of how Mbeki would both manage the economy his way and hold together the organization was not an easy one. At the very time that Mbeki came to office a highly controversial state arms acquisition programme was under way. Why the government had embarked on such massive expenditure and who might be benefiting from it were questions being asked with increasing urgency in public discourse.

Given this combination — an organization whose consensus was fraying and the rise of new forms of high-level corruption — criminal investigation acquired a new political salience. To put it bluntly, controlling the agencies that investigated corruption was fast becoming a crucial tool of control inside the ANC. For the question of whom criminal justice agencies went after and whom they left alone became critical to determining who would control the ANC in the near future.

The discretion of the leaders of investigative agencies became explosively political. As we have seen, the police were pretty much disbarred from doing this sort of work from on. Until , Mbeki restricted very carefully who might spy on members of the political establishment. The NIA was permitted to do so because it was tightly under his control. In , Mbeki gave the green light to the establishment of a powerful investigative agency in the Justice Department under the authority of the national director of public prosecutions, but only after he had thoroughly reformed the prosecution service, ridding it of its federal structure, centralizing authority in the national director, and appointing a trusted client to this position.

Selebi began to do this with gusto from his first weeks in office onwards. At the time, I was in regular contact with several senior police officers in various parts of the Detective Branch, including Crime Intelligence.


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  5. I thus received an ongoing account of the new relationship Selebi was forming with the Detective Branch.