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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Policing Approach

Certainly, the degree to which indigenous and settler populations intermix, the prevalence of inter-marriage, the level of social integration, the degree to which religious or ethnic affiliations become purveyors of the perceived threats of difference rather than the perceived enrichments of diversity, and the salience of dispossession as one group's historical starting point contribute enormously to political and socio/economic imbalances, which eventually express themselves in conflict, where satisfactory forms of equilibrium among competing interests become impossible to calibrate. On the other hand, the "narcissism of small differences," first articulated by Freud, which postulates that the more objectively alike opposing groups are, the more they magnify their pseudo differences in communities that have been suppressed for long periods of time by the state, either colonial or otherwise. The suppressed people identify the police as one of the state's instruments of control part of the state's armory to keep them in their proper places rather than as the custodians of law and order ensuring the safety of the citizenry have far different attitudes to policing than communities who dominate others in every sphere of life and are the well from which the police are drawn. The latter are far more disposed as seeing the police as the impartial enforcers of the law, protective of their safety, there to be called upon when danger threatens.

Thus, the reform of the police service, whether at operational level or in terms of its ideological and political ethos, is almost necessarily a matter that is one of the outcomes of a negotiated settlement rather than an a priori condition for negotiations themselves. Parties agree that policing and security services must be changed to reflect the terms of a consensual settlement but change cannot precede negotiations themselves.

The parties who control the security systems of the dominant community usually the state -- are unlikely to cede control over them before they negotiate. They would in effect be ceding control of the instruments that have allowed them to maintain power. On the other hand, parties who have had to make their case for political change through the use of physical force are, for the same reasons, unprepared to hand over their weaponry and disband their paramilitary organizations prior to a satisfactory political settlement being reached. Neither side is ever willing to make a concession that might alter the tenuous balance of forces and circumstances that had resulted in military stalemate and the subsequent need for recourse to negotiations.

Moreover, the reality of the situation on the ground, ingrained cultural attitudes towards policing among blacks in South Africa make the policing issue complex and not one that can be easily dealt with.1 In South Africa, the entire command structure of the South African Police (SAP) was white. The police were trained to fight "terrorism," not crime. The preferred method of obtaining evidence to support charges brought on individuals was the defendant's "unsolicited" confession, usually extracted by threat, intimidation, physical abuse and, if necessary, torture. Thus, when the ANC became the governing party, the transformation of policing required not only a restructuring at the management level but the development and inculcation of an entirely different ethos of policing and service to the community at every level of law enforcement and basic training for police personnel in reporting, recording, investigating, evidence collection, and preparation of cases for presentation to prosecutors.

In South Africa, the task of transformation in policing after successful negotiations has been strewn with pitfalls. Not only are there the questions of accelerated affirmative action in the new South African Police Service (SAPS) and the usual backlash that accompanies it, but imponderables relating to the size of the "pool" from which potential recruits for fast-track promotion can be siphoned, the behavioral changes that are the basic prerequisites of new people-friendly, rights' oriented police services, the latent anti-police attitudes that members of oppressed communities inherit that inhibit them from joining police forces, reformed or otherwise, and the fact that the process of transformation itself must be internally driven i.e. that more enlightened members of the "old guard" must become agents of change, dragging their less than cooperative colleagues with them, since the ranks of the "new guard" cannot be suffused overnight with raw recruits without a slither of knowledge of what policing and law enforcement is about, other than the perceptions they have accumulated from years or decades of being at the receiving end of police forces they despised, even if they have undergone or are about to undergo rehabilitation and pride themselves on their new found emphasis on crime prevention, provision of safety and the maintenance of law and order to the citizenry at large.

Adding to the difficulties that accompany transformations in policing in countries embarking on new dispensations are the "rogue" elements in the police that either have been subverting the peace processes they were supposed to support, as in the case of the "third force" in South Africa -- a loose amalgamation of security officials who engaged in criminal activities including the abduction and murder of anti-apartheid activists or who continue to work within the system to either hinder the process of transformation or bring it into disrepute.2

The fact that when all the theories have been expounded, best practices implemented, and grievances apparently successfully addressed, conflict may remain dormant, sometimes for substantial periods of time. But the impenetrable roots of conflict are part of the subconscious itself, the psyche a warehouse in which they are stored. Even parties in conflict are not aware of, and have no understanding of the contradictory tensions that derange inner impulses which they are incapable of not succumbing to, impulses that impel spontaneous conflagrations of inter-communal violence in unforeseeable, and often seemingly benign, circumstances.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.