David Africa
David Africa

Lonmin tragedy exposes the farce of a transformed police force

The killing of more than 30 mineworkers by police on Thursday is a watershed in post-apartheid policing and politics. Whatever the challenges confronting police in the face of an agitated and armed group of workers, the numbers of miners killed seems to reflect an action that seriously transgresses the limits of a reasonable response. The images on TV do nothing to dispel notions that the police response was grossly exaggerated. But more than being a watershed, this tragedy compels us to reflect and deliberate upon the disintegration of so-called miracle transition.

Our previous police commissioner Bheki Cele and the then deputy minister of police, Fikile Mbalula, were the foremost proponents of a policing approached they entitled shoot-to-kill, an approach to fighting crime that centred around a militarisation of the police and a return to apartheid-style kragdadigheid. Our former police general and his “militant” deputy-minister went all over the country, promising poor communities that the police would be acting viciously against “armed and dangerous criminals”.

Moreover they emphasised that attacks on police officers would be met with maximum force. The killing of Andries Tatane in Ficksburg last year was the first public example of police brutality resulting in the death of a protestor. The very same “shoot to kill” commissioner went to pay his condolences to the family of Tatane. Now we have 30 Andries Tatanes, the logical consequence of a police mentally geared towards maximum force, especially in the face of the killing of two of their colleagues by armed miners. The untransformed armed might of a state will always be turned against the poor, with interpretations of armed and dangerous becoming more nebulous and all-encompassing.

Cele and Mbalula’s reactionary policing approach, though no longer official government policy, inspired an attitude among a police that always felt uncomfortable with the fundamental changes envisaged in the immediate aftermath of the political transition in 1994, and never fully committed to implementing a policing model that seeks to deliver a more intelligent, community-based policing service. No wonder Cele was seen as a “real cop” by so many old-era police officers.

The failure of the ANC government to develop and consistently implement the envisaged transition in policing in the face of reactionary responses from apartheid-era police officers is reflective of a broader ideological and political decay that has become endemic to the ruling party. In so many areas of our political life and governance, the search for new and progressive ways of being and doing has been replaced with an easy resort to the status quo ante. The Protection of Information Bill and the militarisation of the police are simply examples of a broader turn to the right that now drives the ANC’s politics.

And like we turn to apartheid-era models of governing, or rather ruling, we will probably be inspired by the example of Adriaan Vlok and others who murdered at will, and in the end sought their forgiveness in the washing of their victims’ feet, and nothing more.

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  • 55 Responses to “Lonmin tragedy exposes the farce of a transformed police force”

    1. Yaj

      What proof do you have that the elite is predominately white? The stats that I heard on the radio recently were that the black rich elite now double the number of the white rich. What you are seeing is that there is a bigger Middle Class in the white population – because they are educated to start with, and also because that those who do not get jobs emigrate.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:28 pm
    2. David Africa

      @Tofolux, the fact that you claim the police is necessarily militarised is exactly the problem. Apartheid police was militarised and the ANC, prior to coming to power, commited itself to a demilitarised police service (not force). However, the ideals contained in the ANC’s vision of a progressive policing model had given way to a reactionary position by the time Cele was appointed and Mbalula served as deputy-minister. Hence, there are (and the ANC rightly propogated) a different approach to the ‘inevitable militarisation’ you advocate.

      My critique is targeted mainly at the ANC, simply because it is the ruling party and in charge of the police. This is known as accountability – if you have authority, you can claim both successes (as our politicians do) and must also face the criticism that comes with mistakes. I would suggest that the ANC’s turn to the right is doing much more harm to this country than a mere blogger like I ever could.

      Generally – The quality of policing has nothing to do with ANC cadre deployment per se. There are many highly competent people deployed from the ANC into the police, and the DA does the same in the Western Cape.

      Those who killed the two police officers must be dealt with, if they are not amongst the dead, but it does not justify the police killing thirty people. Proportionality is a well-established global norm in law-enforcement, and even war.

      August 21, 2012 at 7:04 pm
    3. Tofolux #

      @David, it is a contradiction to argue that Police Service is not is some way militarised. Here I talk to eg. the roles and responsibility of every person in the service, weaponry, intelligence, rank and file, different divisions, security, judiciary etc etc. Hence the Service is multi dimensional and the premise has to be put taking into cogniscance these roles and relevance. What has been put in terms of demilitarisation, is the difference between apartheid police force and the type of service that needs to be rendered encompassing Batho Pele principles. But clearly, the militarisation and demilitarisation warrants a different and deeper debate hence my point that this argument is fallacious because the premise and conclusion does not add up. ie the 1=1 principle. I am on the fence and it is a grave mistake to play, judge, jury, pathologist and hangman on this issue. The information gathered thus far is fractured and selective. What we desperately require is an informed analysis and not a ”papparazi take” on this issue. Public has a right to know what is going on and this information needs to be conveyed in a responsible manner. The endemic problem we have though is the belligerence around things we do not know. In the main, information must be communicated so that it opens the window to our understanding. I will therefore wait for the outcome of the enquiry and then form an opinion on concrete facts. In the meantime, lets show solidarity with those who have suffered.

      August 22, 2012 at 10:15 am
    4. Bored #

      David Africa,

      It sounds to me like you would prefer the status quo to remain where the police are unable to respond because of no tranpsort vehicles and are out muscled by the criminal element. So we all can sit around drinking tea and lamenting the loss of the under resourced brave boys in blue while we moan about crime.

      But this time when the cops arrived and responded equally to the threat against their lives, you still turn around and find another angle to moan and groan.

      Maybe next time you should tell the SAPS that you will handle it and disperse the mob with neo-liberal babbling. isnt that what was wanted? The strikers to lay down their weapons and rather open a debate? But I guess hacking people to death and lighting them on fire is a good way to argue a point. I am inexperienced in this field so please could you educate me.

      I would suggest that we will see an unarmed police force when strike action is no longer based solely around violence and the destruction of public property.

      The ANC created this monster and doesnt have the guts to tell the unions that apartheid is no longer around and these actions are unacceptable.

      The police are by no means perfect, but I stand by them 100% because we were both not brave enough to stand by them and protect the public.

      August 27, 2012 at 8:09 am
    5. David Africa

      @Bored…neo-liberal babbling…mmmh. See where your kragdadige police mentality, reminiscent of apartheid-era tactics more than revolutionary mentality got the police, ANC and government… A critique of government or the ANC is not necessarily, and actually most of the time NOT a neoliberal babble, but often from those with long associations with the ANC, myself included here. I was brought up in an ANC that valued critique and robust debate, and not one that runs to the defence of whatever is done in our name.

      I’m sure the neo-liberal mine bosses must just be loving the police doing their dirty work, don’t you think…or you scheme they might have preferred to deal with workers in my neo-liberal, tea sipping manner?

      August 28, 2012 at 6:57 pm

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