Rauch, J. (1991). Deconstructing the South African Police. Paper presented to the Annual Conference of the Association for Sociology in Southern Africa, Cape Town, July.
Paper presented to the Annual Conference of the Association for Sociology in Southern Africa, Cape Town, July 1991.
Janine Rauch is an independent consultant.
The purpose of this paper is to describe the current structure of the South African Police (SAP) and analyse some of the reforms of the police force which have taken place since 1989. This is motivated by an understanding that the organisation is one determinant of police behaviour.1 This paper will not attempt to document all the features of the organisation, such as the rules, policies, procedures and systems of command, let alone the features of the occupational culture. Instead, it offers a basic outline of the organisational structure of the SAP, as necessary preparation for "structured research into how policy at the top of the police organisation is put into effect at the bottom".2 Having such basic understanding of the structure and operation of the SAP also allows researchers and members of the public to engage with members of the police force more effectively.
The data is drawn largely from official SAP documents and press releases, and interviews with members of the force. The SAP's reluctance to divulge information has meant that it is difficult to establish the accuracy of all the information we have gathered to date. This secrecy, which is predominantly the legacy of apartheid policing, makes burdensome "the writer's responsibility in handling the difficult process of making the invisible visible, all the while with the consent of those who usually maintain that invisibility in place".3
The de Witt Commission
During 1988, ex-commissioner General De Witt was appointed to head an investigation into the re-structuring of the SAP. The Commission reported in 1989, and its recommendations have been gradually implemented since then. The re-structuring of the SAP which followed the De Witt Commission is probably the most significant change to the force since its formation in 1913. The publicly reported changes which resulted from the Commission were largely related to the de-centralisation of the police force into 11 regions, but many of the more recent changes to the Branch structures apparently also follow recommendations of the Commission. (The full report of the Commission is not publicly available).
Current Structure of the SAP
(i) The General Staff
The General Staff consists of all the Generals in the force. Below the Commissioner, it is the highest decision-making body. The General Staff currently consists of over 50 members with the rank of General, Lt-General or Major-General. The Generals are the Commissioners of each of the 11 Regions and the Chiefs of each of the Branches and Management Services, Senior Staff Officers, Deputy Chiefs of Branches and Divisions and certain Generals from Homeland Police forces (eg Maj-Gen Jack Buchner of the KwaZulu Police).
Recent restructuring of the Branches has created a further level known as the "Super-Generals". These are the heads of the four main divisions of the SAP (see below). Together with the Commissioner (Gen J Van Der Merwe) and the Deputy Commissioner (Lt-Gen M Van Eyk), the Super Generals will play an executive role in the General Staff. A similar function was played by the Chief Deputy-Commissioners during the late 1980s, when there were a number of Deputy-Commissioners who each took responsibility for an area of policing - Security, Detective Branch, Personnel and Administration. There were then a number of Senior-Deputy Commissioners who were in charge of eight other functions (Riot Control, the Chief Chaplain, Forensics, Criminal Bureau, Inspectorate, Personnel and Administration, Quartermaster and the Senior Staff Officer). The current structure has reduced the number of Deputy-Commissioners and instead the different functions are headed by a General who is the Chief of that function.
(ii) Line Functions
Crime Combatting and Investigation
On 1 April 1991, the Criminal Investigation Division (Detective Branch) was officially merged with the Special Branch to form the Crime Combatting and Investigation Division (CCI). The aim of this merger was to improve the SAP's ability to "fight crime".4
In the context of the unbanning of the liberation movements and extra-parliamentary opposition groups (which had been the main target of Security Branch activity), this merger was motivated as part of the strategy to "de-politicize" the SAP. The senior staff of the force were apparently delighted to be able to get on with the job of combatting crime, which they now see as their primary function, and be rid of the association with apartheid laws.
However, in practice, the creation of the new division did not substantially alter the existence, structure or operation of the two previous Branches. The "Super-General" appointed to head the CCI (Lt-Gen Basie Smit - previously head of the Security Branch) is just one level of command above the existing command structures of the two Branches. One reason given for this5 is that it is not feasible to collapse the two command structures because of the number of people who would be made redundant by such a move, and rather there will be a natural process of "withering away" which will eventually result in the emergence of a unified command structure for the new division. There will be some division between Crime Investigation (the old CID) and Crime Information Services,6 which will include the Criminal Record Centre and the Forensic Science Laboratory.
According to information from a number of NGOs who monitor police activity, the Security Branch is still operating in much the same way as it did before the merger was announced. We have also come across policemen in the lower ranks of the SAP who were unaware of the changes. Evidence before the Harms Commission stated that the Security Branch operates a number of "desks" which take responsibility for the policing of different political groups. There are apparently "desks A-F". Desk A would take responsibility for monitoring foreign political activity which relates to South Africa, Desk B for technical work (possibly including telephone and post monitoring as well as the manufacture of devices), Desk C for the ANC and PAC, and so on. Within the C Desk, there are a number of units: C1 is the anti-insurgency unit which was based at Vlakplaas and included ex-ANC operatives known as "Askaris" and C2 is responsible for interrogation of ANC and PAC suspects.7 These "desks" are reproduced at Regional (and possibly local) level. The number of people working on each "desk" would vary according to local manpower and levels of political activity - in the Witwatersrand there may be a number of people assigned to each "desk", while in rural areas, one security policeman may manage all the desks for that area.
Despite official statements that members of the Security Branch are now engaged in conventional crime-detection work, there is evidence to suggest that the Security Branch is still functioning, to a greater or lesser extent, to police political organisations. The opinion of one ex-member of the Security Branch is that this is an infringement (if not of the law, at least of established practice) of previous divisions of labour which existed between the Security Branch and other intelligence agencies. The suggestion is that the Security Branch should now have no role in policing the ANC or other legal political parties, as the policing of legal organisations was the prerogative of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), while the Security Police focused on illegal organisations.8
The Criminal Investigation Division was structured in two ways: firstly, nearly every police station has a CID department consisting of local detectives who investigate local crimes, and secondly, a number of specialised detective units which were reproduced at regional and local level, where appropriate. The local CID and the specialised units will now fall under the CCI division. The specialised units include:
- Commercial Crime Units (Fraud Squad)
- Murder and Robbery Units
- Child Protection Units
- Vehicle Theft Units
- Stock Theft Units
- Diamond and Gold Units
- SA Narcotics Bureau
- Unit for the Protection of Endangered Species
Given the hierarchical and specialised structures of the Detective and Security Branches, it is unrealistic to expect the immediate and effective merger of the two into one function. There are however, scattered clues which suggest that there is real commitment to the merger and the de-politicisation of the Security Branch (which is now envisaged as an intelligence agency). One such clue is the fact that there are apparently now very few promotion opportunities in the Security Branch, which is evidenced by the increasing number of Security Branch officers who are being transferred into the Uniform Branch. It is possible that this merger will be eased by the fact that personnel in both branches have been "detectives", and there are some similarities in the types of work and skills to which they are accustomed.
The formation of this new division (as yet awaiting its official name) was announced in May 1991. It will be formed out of the merger of the Uniform and Operational Branches. The emphasis of this division will be on crime prevention.9 The "Super-General" heading this division is Lt-Gen L Malan, previous Chief of the Operational Branch.
This division will consist of a pro-active and a reactive policing service.10 It is reasonable to suppose that the old Uniform Branch will do the proactive (crime prevention) work, while the old Operational Branch will do the reactive policework. Thus the Business Watch, Tourist Patrols and Beach Patrols are all part of proactive policework.
After basic training, police constables are generally posted to the Uniform Branch. The Uniform Branch was the largest Branch of the Force before the recent restructuring, and is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the approx. 900 police stations across the country. Each police station is commanded by a Station Commander. Station Commanders fall under District Commissioners, who, in turn, report to Regional Commissioners. The Regional Commissioners report to the General Staff.
The functions of the Uniform Branch are as follows:11
- administration of the Force;
- crime prevention;
- investigation of certain categories of crime;
- all other policing functions which fall outside the ambit of the other branches.
Training for Uniform Branch work, which could be the essence of a new style of "community policing", appears to have been minimal. Although most members of the force would initially spend a couple of years in the Uniform Branch, the tendency is for the most promising to be removed from this area of work and trained for a commissioned position in one of the other branches or in the management hierarchy.
The Uniform Branch included a number of important police units which will now form part of the Visible Policing division:
(i) The Reserve Police Force
This consists of members of the public who volunteer for active duty in the SAP. The "reservists" do not get paid and are mainly used in police stations. There are various specialised groups within the Reserve, such as pilots, the Diving unit, the Radio Reserve and the Junior reserve which is made up of youth members. At the end of 1990, there were over 12 000 members of the Reserve Police Force. During last year, 471 reservists performed duty during riots, and others were employed in their own residential areas, together with the Neighbourhood Watch schemes, to assist with crime prevention. However, an analysis of figures provided by the Commissioner of Police in May of this year suggests that each member of the Reserve Police Force did an average of one minute of duty during 1990.12
(ii) The Police Reserve
The Police Reserve, established in 1958, consists of ex-members of the SAP. The active members of the Police Reserve served less than ten years in the SAP and are now liable for "call-ups" of up to three months a year. The inactive Police Reserve are those ex-members of the Force who have fulfilled their obligations to the force. At the end of 1990, there were 7 500 active members of the Force, and over 15 000 inactive members.13
Both the Reserve Forces were called up for duty by the Minister of Law and Order during States of Emergency. The Police Reserve and Reserve Police have been used in township duty in recent years, particularly during the elections in September 1989.
The Operational Branch had a rather different role and style of policing. The Branch was created in 1989 to take responsibility for much of the "political policework" - counter-insurgency and riot control - which had previously fallen under various different divisions. Its defined function was "to deal with all tasks in respect of security in the Republic of South Africa".14
The following units fell under the Operational Branch:
(i) Counter-Insurgency, Riot and Crowd Control
Following the report of the Goldstone Commission, the SAP commissioned an internal inquiry into its crowd and riot control techniques. This was headed by ex-Commissioner General P Coetzee, and consisted of members of the SAP, SADF, National Intelligence Service and Dept of Constitutional Affairs. The report of the Commission is currently being tabled in the SAP, but certain of its recommendations are already being implemented. The first of these flows from its conclusion that "in cases where the actions of the Police fell short of the mark, this could not be ascribed to defective training but to a lack of proper supervision and control, and to a deficiency in the number of trained personnel available."15 The result of this has been an increase in the size of the Riot Units in the post-Emergency period. Training has been intensified and psychometric tests are conducted on members of the Riot Unit to "measure aggression".16 At the end of 1989, the riot units had nearly 7 000 members.17 In 1990, the reported figure was just over 4 000. Rather than being scaled down in the post February 2 period, the Riot Unit has diversified and a large number of its members are now based in "Unit 19" at Pretoria. This is a newly formed rapid-response Riot Unit which can be deployed anywhere in the country. It is planned that the membership of Unit 19 alone will increase to 2 700 this year.18 The Riot and Counter-Insurgency Units have their own extensive training programme and a number of training bases. At the moment, all male police trainees go for six weeks of counter-insurgency training after they have completed basic training at the police college.
(ii) Special Task Force
This unit was established in 1976 to deal with hostage-type situations. It is an elite "special forces" type unit, whose members undergo rigorous selection and training. Cawthra19 suggests that the Special Task Force, and the Operational Branch as a whole, have close connections with the SADF, particularly in terms of training. The Special Task Force is used to assist the other Branches in "combatting terrorism", and some of its operations are clandestine.20
(iii) Special Guard Unit
This unit is responsible for the security and protection of Cabinet Ministers and VIP's and also protects SAP properties such as Police Headquarters in Pretoria.
(iv) Transport Police
Formed after the SA Railways & Harbours Police were incorporated in to the SAP, it polices the premises of the Department of Transport Services.
(v) Air Wing
Relaunched in 1985 and, supported by the Air Reserve, its functions are to21 observe unrest, trace vehicles, rescue and transport injured people.
(vi) Special Constables (Police Assistants)
Introduced in 1986 with the recruitment of 3 000 black constables, the "kits konstabels" were to be a black force for deployment in unrest-ridden townships. This strategy, born at the height of the State of Emergency, has appropriately been dubbed "black-on-black policing".22 The absence of formal educational qualifications for entrance to this unit and the brief (6 week) training period have provoked much criticism. Together with the reputation this unit quickly acquired for lawless behaviour,23 these factors prompted the SAP to reform the Special Constable Units by improving the training and raising the entrance requirements. In 1990 and 1991 the recruiting of all other race groups, including whites, to this unit was approved. This was primarily the result of the severe manpower shortage which faced the SAP in 1988 and 1989. In May 1991, the Minister announced that the Special Constables would be known as "Police Assistants". Applicants are now required to have at least a Std 6 education, and the training period has been extended to three months. There will be two grades (1 and 2) of Police Assistants. Police Assistants account for approximately 10% of the actual membership of the SAP. The diversion of black recruits into these units is evidenced by the fact that 3 400 black special constables were trained in 1990, as compared with just over 1 000 black student constables for the SAP itself.24
(vii) Municipal Police
The Municipal Police were introduced during the 1986 State of Emergency, ostensibly as "bobbies on the beat" for black townships; but in fact they were deployed in protection and support of the Black Local Authorities (BLA) under Section 5 of the Police Act. The SAP also claims that the launch of the Municipal Police was part of the Government's programme of creating employment opportunities. At the time of the launch, the Municipal Police were employed by the BLA's and were not part of the SAP. In 1989, they were incorporated into the SAP, partly in response to their reputation for abuses of power and resistance to police authority,25 and partly to bolster the SAP which was experiencing a severe manpower shortage. There is now one member (Maj- Gen N Acker) of the General Staff who is responsible for Special Constables and Municipal Police. There are approximately 10 000 Municipal Police, working in 256 municipal Police Stations. In 1990, over a thousand recruits (including one woman) were admitted26 to this unit. The municipal police make up over 12% of the police force, one fifth of the black employees.
While there is no doubt that the work of the Uniform Branch in police stations and that of the Operational Branch in riot control are both highly "visible" forms of policing, the new division is made up two branches that are surely strange bedfellows. The Operational Branch represents the opposite extreme of militaristic "fire-brigade policing" from the locally based patrol work of the Uniform Branch. Far from being demobilised, the Riot Units are being strengthened, both in terms of manpower and technology; and will continue to play a vital role in the SAP's management of the transition period. It seems unlikely that a unified command structure or style of operation will develop in this division in the near future.
(iii) Staff Functions
Human Resources Management
This new division will take responsibility for all training and personnel functions, including 27
(i) Personnel Administration, including Recruitment
(ii) Pastoral and Social Care
(iii) Institute for Behavioural Sciences
(iv) Training and Proficiency Development
Four brigadiers, one from each "race group", have been appointed to head the training section. Training in the SAP currently happens at a variety of levels:
Segregation at the basic training colleges is to end at the end of this year, although recent press releases suggest that recruits will continue to be given the option of training at a racially exclusive institution. Up until now, white recruits have been trained at Pretoria, Blacks at Hammanskraal, Coloureds at Bishop Lavis and Asians at Chatsworth (previously Wentworth).
Significant changes to the SAP training programmes are envisaged, although it seems that the actual planning for these changes is only just beginning. Part of the changes to the training courses has been a new emphasis on police-community relations -
New material will be introduced into the curriculum of all four training colleges and the new Police Academy at Graaff-Reinet in order to convey the message of the necessity for sound relationships between the police and the community.28
The police colleges have two intakes, in January and July (although it appears that the training period is to be reduced to four months from next year, which would allow for three intakes per year).29
The syllabus at the basic training institutions consists30 of
- Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Law of Evidence
- English and Afrikaans
- Practical Police Science
- Police Administration
- Investigation of Crime
- Criminology & Ethnology
- Police-Public relations
- Physical Education and First Aid
It does not include teaching or examination of the Police Act, Regulations or Standing Orders. In addition to the academic programme, all student constables do musketry, drill, and self-defence training. Women trainees do slightly less drill, and instead receive training in deportment, make-up and social ethics.31 After the six month basic training, male trainees are sent to one of the Counter-Insurgency Training Centres for a six week course in the handling of "political unrest". The basic training institutions are currently not large enough to cope with the number of new recruits to the force. Although 10 000 people were recruited in the last year, many of them (1 000 in the Witwatersrand Region alone) work as "student constables" in police stations while they wait to go on the basic training course. The SAP has reportedly purchased the Oudtshoorn training base from the SADF for training purposes and is planning to train 10 000 recruits in 1992,32 which would be double the number trained in 1990.
The Special Constables and Municipal Police are trained at different institutions, for shorter periods, with different course material. Many members of homelands police forces (over 2 000 in 199033) are also trained by the SAP, mainly at SAP institutions. In 1990, over 40% of all black trainees given full basic training were members of homeland police forces, not members of the SAP.34
There are two new institutions which conduct advanced training for the SAP.
The Advanced Training College at Paarl conducts all the officer training courses (OTC) for the SAP, as well as a range of other post-directed training courses for members of the SAP and homeland police forces. It opened in 1990, and was the first SAP Training Institution to take students of all races. The College currently has approx. 300 students at any one time, but this should be increased to 1000 in 1992.
The Police Academy has recently opened at Graaff-Reinet, under the command of General P Coetzee, ex-Commissioner of the SAP. This academy will be the police force's equivalent of a university, with a full complement of 450 students studying full-time for the UNISA BA Degree in Police Science. Apart from the specialisation in Police Science, students will also take courses in Law and will select options from Criminology, Public Administration, Political Science, Private Law and Accountancy. Students also have access to language tuition in English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa. Like the Advanced College, the Police Academy has a multi-racial student body. Apart from the full-time staff (about half of whom are civilians) and students, the Academy will also house a research department, which will conduct academic research.
At the Paarl Advanced Training College, short post-directed and specialist courses are attended by over 1500 students from the SAP and homeland police forces. These include courses in financial administration, detective skills, public speaking, disciplinary proceedings, mortuary administration, video-camera operating and computing.
Counter-insurgency and riot control training35 is conducted at Maleoskop, Verdrag, Slagboom and Koeberg (for Special Constables and Municipal Policemen). These centres also provide training to members of seven homeland police forces.
The Police Dog School is located in Pretoria and trained nearly 400 members of the SAP in 1990.36
In-service training is now an important component of the entire training system, and is conducted by a variety of departments within the police force, both staff and line functions. Training also occurs at a Regional level. The following departments and branches also conduct specialised training for members of the SAP, homeland police forces, members of other government departments and the private sector:37
Logistics, Telecommunications, Management Development, Explosives, Security, Legal Services, Information Systems, Behavioural Science, Detective Branch, Recruitment, and Financial Administration.
This new division incorporates the remaining management, logistical and administrative functions.
It is responsible for administering many of the changes implemented as a result of the De Witt Commission, such as the decentralisation of certain administrative and financial functions. Many of these functions are now reproduced at Regional Level - public relations, recruiting, logistics, research, and legal services. Although removed from "active policework", many of the units in this division play key roles in police-public interactions - for example, the Public Relations department and the Legal Services teams.
It includes the following:
(i) Financial Services
(ii) Logistics (Quartermaster)
(iii) Public Relations
(iv) Scientific-Technical Services - Information Systems - Scientific Research Services - Consultant Services
(v) Efficiency Services Inspectorate
(vi) Research and Planning
(vii) Central Firearms Register
(viii) Inspectorate for Explosives
(ix) Occupational Safety Unit
(x) Interstate Relations Unit
(xi) Legal Services
Composition and Growth of the SAP
In 1990, the SAP suffered a severe staffing crisis, with over 20 policemen reportedly resigning per day in January and February of that year.38 Two sets of salary increases were implemented in an attempt to stop the exodus. Later in 1990, Minister Vlok announced that the SAP would be recruiting a further 10 000 members of the force between July 1990 and June 1991. This target was reached by the end of 1990, with the recruitment of 7 119 members and nearly 4 000 special constables39 in the second half of the year. In contrast, however, the SAP lost 7 223 members in 1990 due to retirement, resignation and discharge,40 and thus entered 1991 in the much the same position of having to recruit nearly 10 000 new members. The figures below suggest that the Force has been successful in obtaining finance for more posts, and in attracting recruits to fill these posts.
At the end of 1990, the SAP had41
Full members - 56 423
Civilian employees - 10 128
Temporary members - 1 168
Special constables - 8 838
National Servicemen - 855
Actual numerical strength - 77 482
Approved Establishment - 86 152
Shortfall (vacant posts) - 8 670
By mid-1991, the actual size of the force42 had increased by 40% to approx 109 000, and the approved establishment to 123 000. Of these, 49 000 are black,43 47 000 white, 8 500 Coloured and 3 500 Asian. Of the total (109 000), 96 30144 are active members of the SAP and the remainder are civilians.
We trained hard, but it seemed every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress, while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.45
The chaos and disorganisation which are evident in the SAP at the moment are substantially the products of the restructuring of the force which has been ongoing since 1989; and, secondly, the changes to the national political reality which have required the police force to fundamentally redefine its role. In some senses, the changes to the administrative functions caused more severe disruption within the force than the somewhat cosmetic changes to the line functions. The upsurge in political conflict and violence in the recent period has put further pressure on an already overstretched force; and it is clear that the SAP are not able (and possibly, at some points, not willing) to deal with the situation to the satisfaction of all parties. This inability to deal with the violence is not the product of an inadequately staffed and under-resourced force. As the State's "first line of defence",46 the SAP has always had ample access to resources; and the 1991 Government Budget shows a major shift in funds from the Defence Force to the SAP. Rather, the inability and possible unwillingness of the police to deal with the violence is a consequence of their historical alienation from the communities, and the narrow ideological framework within which they have trained and operated. The profound crisis of legitimacy which the SAP has experienced over the last two decades will not be resolved by public relations exercises or by the limited changes to the organisational structure.
The recent restructuring of the SAP into eleven regions and four main "arms", was largely planned during the late 1980s and the States of Emergency, and cannot, therefore, be seen only in the context of the post February 1990 period. One of the problems with the new structure is that it creates further steps on the ladder of the police hierarchy, and this is likely to diminish, rather than improve, channels of good communication and internal accountability. Already we can see that official changes in policy and practice in the last year have not filtered down to the lowest ranks. Even at the simple structural level, this does not bode well for a future Government which might wish to establish a different policing practice. The occupational subculture of the police is, in most countries, resistant to change; and in South Africa, the particular "Christian National" features of this subculture have a greater potential to limit the effectiveness of police reform.
However, the recent decentralisation of active policing and managerial functions has the potential to make the police more accessible and accountable to local communities. Also, the division between line functions (Crime Combatting and Visible Policing) and staff functions (Human Resources Management and Support Services) should work to the advantage of active policing units, and the consumer, by removing some of the administrative burdens from the line functionaries.
At this time, the outcome of the merger between the "political" (ie Security Branch and Operational Branch) and the "non-political" (Detective and Uniform Branch) police functions remains unclear. The national political climate, the progress of negotiations, and the extent of political reform more broadly will ultimately determine the extent to which more "normal" policing will be possible in South Africa. Effective reform of the police force needs to include a "bottom-up" approach and the opening up of the police force to real community participation at a variety of levels. Neither of these features are visible in the new structure of the South African Police.
Cawthra, G (1986) Brutal Force: The Apartheid War Machine, IDAF, London.
Grimshaw, R & Jefferson, T (1987) Interpreting Police Work: Policy and Practice in Forms of Beat Policing; Allen & Unwin, London.
Institute of Criminology (1990) Kitskonstabels in Crisis: A Closer Look at Black on Black Policing; LEAP/CJRC, Cape Town.
Prior, A (1989) "The South African Police and the Counter -Revolution of 1985-1987" in Policing and the Law, first published as Acta Juridica 1989, Faculty of Law, Juta, Cape Town.
Official Publications of the South African Police
South African Police (1991a) Yearbook.
South African Police (1991b) Annual Report of the Commissioner 1990; Government Printer, Pretoria.
South African Police (1990) Annual Report of the Commissioner 1989; Government Printer, Pretoria.
The Natal Witness
© Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation