Why Popcru rejects the re-militarization of the police service

We, the members and employees of the South African Police Services (SAPS), correctional services and traffic services, recognise the civil and basic human rights of all people in South Africa including those employed by the correctional services and the traffic department.

We recognise further that such basic human rights are fundamental rights worthy of enhancement and protection.

We are committed to the creation and development of a security establishment which is the expression of the will of the people and which will reflect co-operation between our members and the community in an effort to truly serve and protect all members of society.

Positive approach

On hearing that there was a plan to reintroduce military ranks in the SAPS, we requested a meeting with the national police commissioner, Bheki Cele.

We ultimately met him on January 18 2010, and at the meeting he complained about the discipline of police officers, who needed “command and control”.

It was agreed that the matter will be channelled to the bargaining council. We were surprised to hear the public announcement by Cele and the police minister that the new rank structures would be in place on April 1 this year.

Our objection

The military system comes with a culture that was entrenched in the apartheid police, As a result of this culture, little action was taken against police members who committed acts of violence and torture against members of the public.

Apartheid policing was rules-based. – police behaviour, responsibilities and duties were determined by rules, regulations and hierarchies rather than initiative, discretion and consultation.

The manifestations of rules-based policing were a militaristic style in dress and attitude towards communities.

Police officers could not use their discretion and as a result, consulting communities on policing matters was never considered. The style of policing was largely reactive, or incident-driven, and there was a lack of transparency.

Our argument is that our movement, the ANC, is in charge of the government and its policies dictate government policy.

We have scrutinised the policy positions of the ANC on to policing and have found no reference to military ranks.

The complaint about discipline

The national commissioner complains about lack of discipline among police officers.

We believe that this notion of discipline was a feature of police culture under apartheid, and that it stemmed from Afrikaner nationalism, Calvinist theology and a belief in white supremacy.

Apartheid ideology, ingrained in white society in general and the police force in particular, gave rise to the belief that the police had to maintain law and order over inferior races.

Such a perspective is to be found throughout the speeches of apartheid-era police generals and in police training manuals.

This belief system, combined with a military-style management structure, had a significant effect on the way discipline was understood in the police.

Authority was primarily determined by the rank of members – the “command and control” demanded by the current leadership of the SAPS.

It was expected that instructions issued by higher-ranking officers would be obeyed without question.

It is our submission that discipline cannot be measured by the extent to which police members adhere to rules and commands given by superiors.

• The article has been shortened
Norman Mampane is Popcru spokesperson

Numsa News No 2 2010