When I ﬁrst started my research with the South African Police Service (SAPS) in 2001, it seemed like the research process was going to be straightforward. My South African co-researcher and I simply sent a fax to the then acting Provincial Commissioner of Police in Gauteng1 stating our wish to carry out research ‘on the implementation of human rights into policing.’ Permission was promptly granted in the form of a return fax which stated that we would be most welcome to do so. The only condition was that we were to provide the police with anything that we were planning to publish in advance, so they could prepare a public response. Malcolm Young, a British police oﬃcer turned ethnographer, notes in An
Inside Job that ‘it is really one of the foundations of any executive power group that it maintains secrecy about its activities and avoids the possibility for its antagonists to subsume that power.’ Quoting Hanna Arendt, he continues, ‘The more public a group, the less power it is likely to have. Real power … begins where secrecy exists’ (1991:1). Reading our initial experience in this light, one could conclude that the post-apartheid South African police had done away with secrecy and surrendered their power to the public. A year and a half later, in 2002, it was a diﬀerent story altogether. Our
research permission was suddenly revoked. For four months the new Commissioner of Police refused to talk to us to discuss the reasons why. It now seemed that the police were reasserting their privilege to exclusion and secrecy. Prior to this, in fact ever since South Africa became a democracy in 1994,
the government had shown an incredible openness about everything to do with human rights. There was a concomitant willingness – whether it was genuine or imposed – on the part of police management to embrace the transformation of the SAPS in the name of human rights and democratisation. However the change of attitude that we experienced in 2002 indicated that this was not a permanent state of aﬀairs and that such openness was being reconsidered. By 2002 a range of institutional changes drawn from a human rights
agenda had been carried through in the police service in South Africa. These
included the establishment of an Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), a human rights curriculum and training programme, strict legislation with regard to the use of force and – something that was initially prescribed by the Constitution – community policing. With these changes already in place, there was no way back, even if the police wanted it. If, as our experience suggested, the relatively short-lived period of openness to human rights was indeed being reconsidered by police management, a new question arises, and one which underpins this book: What kind of policing practice is being produced in South Africa if on the one hand the police service has embraced a human rights agenda, while at the same time it is closing the door against it? Perhaps it is easier to introduce this question through one policeman’s
narrative. Inspector Kekana2 joined the South African Police (SAP) in 1988. He even remembers the exact date: 3 March. He was trained in Durban, came to Johannesburg in 1990, and was promoted to the detective branch in 2001. He remembers vividly the violence of the interregnum – the years between the release of Nelson Mandela in 1991 and the ﬁrst inclusive elections in 1994. And he knew what it meant to be seen as a traitor to the people merely because he was a policeman. He talked about the post-apartheid period in a way that made it clear that it was hard to carry out policing without considering issues of human rights.