14th May2012

When protectors turn into perpetrators

by admin

The South African Police Service (SAPS), an executive branch of government that enforces the law, exercises its official public governmental power in terms of Acts of Parliament such as the Constitution of 1996, the Criminal Procedure Act and the Child Justice Act. In terms of section 205(3) of the Constitution of 1996, the objectives of the police service are to prevent crime, to maintain public order, to protect and secure the inhabitants of the Republic, and to uphold and enforce the law. Only acts performed within the bounds conferred by the Acts of Parliament and the Constitution are deemed lawful. Legislation therefore demands punishment for any police official who exercises his official public power unreasonably and therefore acts unlawfully.

In 2012, however, ordinary South Africans live in perpetual fear of SAPS. My body goes cold when a police van drives or a police man walks past me, even though I have done nothing illegal because I am well aware of the horrors that I will face if I end up in a police cell. In the wake of service delivery protests that resulted in the death of innocent civilians such as Ficksburg’s Andries Tatane and the senseless torture and ultimate killing of persons in police custody, SAPS has earned itself a violent reputation. This is further exacerbated by the inability of the police force to discipline its members who are the perpetrators of these unlawful acts. This is odd because police officials are only permitted to use force in appropriate circumstances, for example if a suspect resists arrest or a protest is violent. However, the use of force must be reasonable. The South African public is at the mercy of the police because this force is exercised unreasonably.

The South African media has gone even further and coined a term for these violent and unlawful acts: police brutality. The irony in this term is striking. The words police and brutality should not go together, let alone used in the same sentence. Protecting and securing inhabitants does not include subjecting individuals to torture. The South African justice system does not promote violence against detainees because it is a punishable offence for which there is a sentence. Subjecting individuals to torture is a violation of their constitutional rights. Not every arrest and detention of a suspect results in a suspect’s death. Many suspects are successfully prosecuted in a court of law for the crimes they have committed but the sudden rise in police brutality when a suspect is arrested and detained is an alarming cause of concern. The individuals who have been tasked with protecting citizens and upholding and enforcing the law are the perpetrators of crimes against innocent civilians.

In conclusion, I am not by any means advocating the entire SAPS as a crime fighting unit filled with common thugs. However, there is a violent rot in the police service that needs to be dealt with promptly. More attention must be placed on the manner in which police officials discharge their duties. The police force must be at the forefront of protecting the rights of civilians and thus not infringing on them.

Thokwadi Seabela is a BCom Law Graduate and current LLB student at the University of Johannesburg.


8 Responses to “When protectors turn into perpetrators”

  • Tanyani

    A dark cloud follows the police force. People are either indifferent to them, fear them or generally resent them. I have yet to meet someone who is in confident in the police. But for now, the dark cloud is getting darker…

    • Thokwadi

      In the wake of the appointment of the new police Commissioner who has vowed to change the image of the police, one can only live in hope that this “dark cloud” that defines the police will lift somewhat . Attitudes of the police force need to be changed so that the service that the public deserves will be rendered unto them. There was a recent survey that showed a general consensus of ordinary young South Africans losing faith in the police sysytem . I really wasn’t surprised and the fact that I wasn’t surprised isn’t right . It’s time for a serious clean up . Reminding the police men and women of their values and duty

  • shepherd mpofu


    News 24, 2008 “SAPS is fast becoming an organisation of criminals”

    2003 and 2007 SAPS was deemed as the second most corrupt government department.

    2009 we had our credit card stolen at the airport when we were checking in and the erson attending to us later went into a car dealership and bought r15000 worth of stuff and the police told us t claim the money from VISA as they had no time. It took calls to Nathi Mthethwa and Bheki Cele to get the Police Directorate to act. Until now nothing has come up.

    Same year I was arrested fro protesting against a policeman who wanted to play games with me when I was in no mood for that and I endured a three hour ordeal in their hand. My crime “You think you are clever, you think this is Zimabbwe.”b I successfully sued them and won the case. Guess what, my victimisers are still at work now.

    This is a force that has managed to strike fear in the hearts of innocent citizens and foreigners who make easy targets for bribes. There is a book which is called something like “The thin Blue Line” on the police force in RSA. It makes an interesting read on the transformation of the police services….

    • Thokwadi

      Tjo! It’s refreshing to see that our justice system makes up for the failure of the police to discipline their own . Self help justice which you suffered in your case is expressly condemned by the courts, the Constitution and other legislation . There should be some form of criminal charge laid against the police officers . Its unfortunate that was never done .

  • Riah

    Insightful indeed. I agree with you when you say you live in constant fear whenever a police van drives by. Sometimes one can say, we living amongst our worst enemies. These people are remunerated to protect and keep us free of crime. Whilst they are doing the opposite (some of them)

    Some instances service delivery is so bad that the police fail to arrive at a crime scene . We must not deny the people of our country to the right protest for service delivery.

    Didnt the police claim that Andries Tatane was violent?

    • Thokwadi

      Thank you . Yes . There was video footage released that showed Tatane forcefully attempting to enter the municipal premises . Tatane refused to yield to the warnings of the police . It was however , wrong for them to beat him senseless . He should have merely been arrested .

  • Pheladi

    Insightful piece, agree to dealing ‘with the rot’ immediately. Problem is there are so many government departments that are just the same (people abusing the powers bestowed on them).

    • Thokwadi

      “The rot” is institutionalised in many government departments . It has become a characteristic of a government department . The abuse of power in goverment departments flows from a lack of accountability . For as long as people aren’t punished criminally and merely given “golden handhsakes” to leave, the abuse of power will worsen

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