chapter  3
19 Pages

The vision of the state: Audiences, enchantments and policing in South Africa


For decades, the South African Police Force was construed as a major institution of apartheid that guaranteed the survival of the regime and protected white capitalist interests through the use of excessive force. As the ANC took over the government, transforming the police into a service that was sensitive to democracy and rearranging it under new lines of political control became a matter of prime importance for the new government. In the decade since 1994, a wide-ranging transformative effort was initiated. This included institutional changes as well as a discursive production of the ‘new times’. Policies for restructuring and restandardizing procedures and training had to be formulated, along with new legal foundations, new principles and new values. Budgets had to be revamped entirely to accommodate the new priorities.1 These initiatives were aimed not only at transforming the police but they also sent discursive signals about ‘before’ and ‘after’. Especially at the beginning of the ANC reign, the government was wary of the police force and its intentions. The police belonged to ‘the old guard’ and could hardly be trusted. They were, after all, the defenders of a regime that the UN had labelled a crime against humanity. However, in time, the government began to see the police as an ally rather than as an enemy. This was both out of need, as crime became a perennial political issue and as a result of a policy shift from a human rights approach to a tough-on-crime approach (Jensen 2005a). Besides dealing with the changing attitudes of the new political masters, the police also had to contend with the South African population, which was often quite hostile. This was partly because of the apartheid past, and partly fuelled by continued perceptions of corruption within the institution and its apparent inability to prevent and solve crimes. One manifestation of this lack of confidence in the police at ground level was the emergence of a range of non-state policing groups, such as Pagad in Cape Town (Jensen 2005b) and Mapogo a Mathamaga in the North West Province (Oomen 2004), as well as less publicized self-defence groups such as D-Man in Port Elizabeth (Buur 2005) and small justice initiatives in rural South Africa (Jensen 2007). The picture that emerges is one in which police are squeezed between demands for professionalism, political sensitivity and human rights from the parts of

the state apparatus (and its allies in the international community) on the one hand, and local demands to fight crime, as well as direct challenges to the state’s prerogative on legitimate violence on the other.