South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives


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Email address for updates. My profile My library Metrics Alerts. Sign in. Get my own profile Cited by View all All Since Citations h-index 24 17 iindex 38 University of Essex. Articles Cited by. Its leaders knew that the organization would soon have to serve a new dispensation, but the nature of this dispensation was still under negotiation. They knew that the organization would soon have new political masters, but were not sure whether these masters would even tolerate their presence.

Among a host of other measures, the Security Branch was disbanded in and absorbed into the Detective Branch under a new name, the Crime Information Service, tasked with gathering intelligence on organized crime. As the new name suggests, police leaders anticipated that the organization could only survive the transition if it abandoned high policing in toto and transferred its intelligence-gathering knowledge to low policing. And yet, of course, the idea of policing organized crime complicates the distinction between high and low policing in two ways.

First, practices historically associated with high policing — the penetration of organizations by covert means — are transferred to low policing.

Working with the complexities of transformational change in a society in transition

Whether they realized it or not, what the police leaders of the early s were in effect proposing was that the Security Branch of old be given licence to spy on the politicians and bureaucrats of the new order. This proposition was obviously intolerable to the ANC. In retrospect, it can be said that the decision of the early s to dissolve the Security Branch into the Detective Branch and thus to blur the distinction between the detection of crime and political policing polluted the entire Detective Branch in the eyes of the ANC and signalled its decline.

The ANC came to power at the end of April During its first few months in office, it eased several senior police leaders out of their posts, including the commissioner of police, Johan van der Merwe, and searched for new leaders inside the organization. By early , the organization was under new management. Although many of the new figures were white, apartheid-era cops, they were unlike any leaders South African policing had seen in many decades.

Among the most influential new strategists were Uniformed Branch careerists, an unprecedented development. It spoke primarily of uniformed officers; it spoke of them as problem solvers, as officers who developed ongoing relationships with civilian constituencies, and entered into an open-ended dialogue with those being policed.

Uniformed policing, for so long the organization's bottom feeder, became an emblem of policing as a whole.

South Africa in Transition

The very language through which South Africa began to understand the transformation in the relationship between cops and civilians was almost exclusively a description of uniformed policing. At police-station level, the detective branch became accountable to the station commissioner, who was invariably a uniformed officer. The detective service was thus humbled and scorned; both its leaders and its rank-and-file understandably took the new course of events as an insult.

A great deal thus changed in a short space of time. High policing, which had until recently commanded the organization as a whole, now disappeared from it completely. How did the blossoming of low policing, and of uniformed policing in particular, change the relationship between police and civilians? It is here that scholars have become too fixated with continuities at the expense of a larger picture that is considerably more nuanced and more interesting.

It is true that many continuities soon emerged. Township residents, especially younger ones, were not very welcoming of a police presence, despite the new uniforms and the new language, and police often resorted to doing their work in large numbers and with aggression, especially on weekend evenings, in part as a measure of self-defence. But paramilitary policing only accounted for what uniformed officers did for a very small portion of their working hours. For much of the remainder of their time, they were doing something South African police officers had never done before — they were responding to calls made upon them by black civilians.

If this observation is simple, it is deceptively so, for the implications are quite profound. Egon Bittner has famously argued that legitimate policing is made possible by the demand for it. When people demand policing, they quite literally pick up the phone and call for it.

What they are calling for are officers licensed to wield asymmetrical force to intervene in situations where things have spun out of control. Police had certainly entered black people's private space at will, but seldom because they had been called — in the main, they entered people's homes to enforce pass laws. When democracy came, a dam wall burst; black civilians began calling police in high numbers and police responded. In the eight-year period that I periodically accompanied police on patrol, the uniformed officers I followed, whether in the ghettos of Cape Town or the shack settlements on the periphery of Johannesburg, spent the bulk of their time responding to calls from civilians.

More than anything else, this was what uniformed police now did. Strong historical residues must of course have shaped these police—civilian encounters. The sort of authority police possessed when they entered private black homes under apartheid must have spilled over into post-apartheid encounters, with all the ambivalence that this implies.

But a new relationship was nonetheless being forged. The idea that in a moment of trouble a protective state might be at the other end of the phone, that it would respond personally to your call during moments of strife, was novel in black South Africa, and must surely take an important place in any examination of the phenomenology of citizenship in the early days of South African democracy. It was in these exchanges between people in trouble and uniformed cops that at least some of the unwritten rules of a new relationship between citizens and state were worked out.

These questions are under-studied. South Africa's murder rate began dropping precipitously in the mids. Why it did so remains something of a mystery. It is quite possible that the normalization of policing had a great deal to do with it. After all, it is well established in the history of homicide that murders are seldom premeditated and that most transpire when things get out of control. From the mids on, there was. In any event, a satisfying account of uniformed policing in the early democratic years must speak of a mosaic, or a cacophony, or even of a confusion of clashing elements.

Many things were going on at the same time. Under the aegis of a new language of risk, police were saturating township space in high numbers and behaving at times like an army of occupation. The violence they might mete out in such situations was extreme. He may have done so poorly or reluctantly, or in a manner that caused great damage over time.


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But that is beside the point. What matters to my argument is that the police were entering into multiple relationships with civilians guided by multiple logics.

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Which relationship was activated moved in sync with a range of rhythms — time of day, density of crowds, private or public space, the preponderance of one gender over another among the civilians the police encountered. Scholarship has yet to give an adequate account of these rhythms.

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One possible reason for this omission is a fixation with continuity. Such a fixation takes a thin and rather frail slice out of a rich and complicated relationship between police and civilians. In , police commissioner George Fivaz's term of office ended. At the time, Selebi was heralded as South Africa's first black police chief. But the colour of Selebi's skin was less important than two other attributes. The first was that he was not a policeman and was thus tasked with running an organization of which he had no knowledge, and with understanding a profession that was not his own.

castylureagr.cf To understand the significance of these attributes, one must have a sense of the ANC's circumstances at the time. In politesse, the ANC is referred to as a broad church. In more straightforward language, it is an organization whose social base is immensely varied, the political perspectives it must contain and manage breathtakingly diverse.


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The ANC's strength at the inception of South African democracy was its capacity to capture as its own the meaning of what it meant to be black and to aspire.

South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives
South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives
South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives
South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives
South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives
South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives
South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives
South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives
South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives

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