Rauch, J., Levin, N., Lue, M. & Ngubeni, K. (1994). Creating a New South African Police Service: Priorities in the post-election period. Research report written for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, July.


Janine Rauch, Nadia Levin, Melanie Lue & Kindiza Ngubeni

Research report written for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, July 1994.

Janine Rauch is an independent consultant.

Nadia Levin and Melanie Lue are former Researchers at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is a Senior Community Facilitator in the Criminal Justice Programme at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.


The new political dispensation in South Africa necessitates fundamental changes in the organisation and practice of police-work. In addition to its provisions on Fundamental Rights, the Interim Constitution of South Africa now prescribes, in some detail, how the new police service shall be structured. The draft Police Bill currently under discussion also provides a new framework for the establishment of a more transparent and accountable police service. However, in contrast to the vision laid out in the Constitution and new structures and mechanisms envisaged in the Bill, the new government inherits an assortment of police forces (and problems) created under the apartheid system. This provides one of the greatest challenges to the new Government in the transformation of state institutions into new forms of Government. But perhaps even more difficult will the process of engendering a new culture and ethos into the institution.

In this paper it argued that the transformation process must be an integrated one. Transforming the institution to realise new goals will require changes in management style, how the organisation is structured, the legislative framework and the culture and ethos. It also provides un-precedented opportunities for civil society to shape and determine the extent of such transformation.

In this paper, we will attempt to describe the major challenges faced by the new government in realising the Constitutional vision of one accountable and transparent South African Police Service. The issues selected reflect our concern with the transformation of the police organisation, as the central institution in the broader enterprise of policing.1 They could be regarded as priority items on the agenda of the elected politicians and police leaders responsible for the reform process.

Community Policing

The Community Policing approach lies at the heart of the constitutional vision and in section 214 (1), which provides for the establishment of community-police forums at all police stations. These forums will:

(a) facilitate increased accountability of the Service to local communities and improved co-operation of communities with the Service;
(b) enable communities to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of the Service;
(c) enable communities to advise the police regarding local policing priorities;
(d) facilitate joint evaluation of the provision of visible police services;
(e) empower community representatives to request enquiries into policing matters in the local area.

The concept of community policing has gained currency in South Africa in recent months. Although initial attempts at reform within the SAP recognised that community mistrust undermined effective law enforcement, these initiatives were concerned with the public image of the police rather than addressing the critical issues of police accountability and professionalism. Early attempts at developing community policing also failed to challenge the SAP's traditional organisational culture. Far from improving police-community relations, these reform initiatives were seen as merely cosmetic.

It is our view that the only effective manner of improving police-community relations will be through the delivery of a more effective and professional service, particularly to black township communities. Community policing cannot be realised through piecemeal reforms or cosmetic changes. It requires a massive "mind-shift" for the entire organisation. In addition to the changes required of the police organisation, changes are required on the part of the community. In order for the community policing project to succeed, community groups and individual citizens need to be prepared to engage directly with the police. This means that old attitudes, ranging from hostility to disinterest, must be changed. In addition to "mind-shifts" required of community and political parties, specific measures need to be taken to empower citizens in relation to the police.2 There is a serious imbalance in current police-community relationships, with the police tending to monopolise information, technical expertise and resources. Unless this imbalance is addressed, it will become a fatal flaw in the community policing approach.

It is our view that national and provincial governments need to devote resources to community empowerment and development in relation to policing matters. However, this is not to say that all such empowerment work can, or should, be done by government. We would argue that NGOs and educational institutions have a large role to play here, and that the objectives of community empowerment would be best served by a joint approach between state and civil society. The process of community empowerment in relation to policing and security matters is both part of, and a prerequisite for, the broader reconstruction and development programme (RDP). If successful, it could strengthen and develop social conditions in communities.

New Legislation

The Constitution requires that a new Act be passed to enable the establishment of the new South African Police Service. A problem with this is the length of time it will take to get the Bill passed through Parliament. This threatens to create a number of problems and delays in the process of amalgamation and restructuring.

One major problem is that the new National Commissioner can only be appointed by the President once the new Act is in place. In the absence of such an appointment, there are structural problems of co-ordination and jurisdiction between the existing police agencies. Each police agency is currently still governed by its "old" Police Act. These problems have been manifest in the inability of any other police agency to intervene or assist during the recent crisis in the Transkei Police. In addition to the organisational problems, however, the leadership vacuum is generating tensions and insecurities among senior echelons in all police agencies, as individual officers begin to position themselves to compete for top jobs.

Although the absence of a new legal framework creates problems, it also offers the new national Minister unprecedented opportunities to shape the reform process. During the pre-Act months, the Minister is the de-facto "commander-in-chief" of all the police agencies.

The task of creating a new legal framework will not end with the passing of a new Police Act. A parallel process must be undertaken in relation to all other legislation affecting police-work, such as the Criminal Procedure Act. This process also entails the drafting of new regulations and standing orders governing police conduct.

The draft Police Bill currently under discussion attempts to address some of the limitations of the previous Police Act. Whilst it succeeds in some respects it falls short in others. For example the Bill makes provision for the establishment of an Independent Complaints Mechanism under civilian control to deal with public complaints against the police. Whilst this inclusion is welcomed both the location of the mechanism and the modus operandi are the subject of debate. The Bill also makes provision for a police inspectorate. However, like its predecessor the inspectorate remains in the realm and under the authority of the police. The argument for a civilian controlled inspectorate retains efficacy as does the argument that the police cannot investigate or monitor themselves.

The most debated aspects of the Bill are:

  • the extent to which it entrenches new mechanisms for accountability;
  • the lack of adequate civilian input and control;
  • the extent to which the internal disciplinary and grievance procedures will adequately address problems in the police; and
  • the provisions governing employment relations.

It could be argued that the Bill has not gone as far as it could have in regard to these and other areas.

Amalgamation of Homeland Police Agencies

The new Constitution makes provision for the establishment of a single national police service, in place of the eleven agencies which currently exist. Not only is the amalgamation of the homeland police forces a constitutional prerequisite, but it also forms a part of the process of democratisation of the police agencies.

The policing institutions which emerged under apartheid were dominated by the ethnic political elites and controlled by illegitimate bantustan administrations. This is reflected in political appointments of commissioners, nepotism, the use of senior positions to pursue personal and political interest and widespread allegations3 of human rights abuses and corruption,4 in many of these agencies.

Past variations in training, grading, standards and promotion procedures between all eleven forces, require that the integration process establishes uniform procedures in these respects. Furthermore the lack of resources have contributed to inferior training and development of the homeland forces and placed them at a disadvantage compared to their white counterparts in the SAP.

There is a need for a comprehensive integration programme which takes cognisance of historical imbalances and which seeks to address future priorities. Some of these priorities include the equitable distribution of resources, the development of a more representative officer corps, and effective mechanism to ensure adherence to national policies, procedures and standards.

The process of amalgamation of police agencies has been overshadowed by the process of amalgamation of the armed forces, which is more politically visible. However, we believe that the police amalgamation process is even more critical, because the police, unlike the military, have daily direct interface with the citizenry.

Affirmative Action and Representivity

One of the central issue of police reform in South Africa is the need for representivity of both black officers and women within the new police service. This is crucial if the Service is to re-establish its legitimacy and accountability to the community it services.

In this context, affirmative action should be viewed as a short-term strategy aimed at the achievement of long-term employment equity - premised on a recognition of the obstacles, both formal and hidden, to the full utilisation of individual and organisational potential.

Whilst the new South African Police Service will have a majority of black members these are grouped in the lower ranks. In contrast 95% of the current SAP officer corps are white. This will create skewing in the representivity of the leadership when the forces are amalgamated. Whilst racially discriminatory practices of hiring, training and promotion practices of the past can be now be addressed it is only new recruits who will benefit from these changes. There is a need to address problems of representivity in the current echelons of the police with a view to rectifying existing imbalances and not entrench them. It is therefore crucial that affirmative action policies provide adequate training and support mechanisms for the recipients.

The creation of ethnic police forces in certain regions or communities which are dominated by one ethnic group should be avoided. Given our highly racial and divided history, the emphasis should be on building a culture of diversity and non-discrimination within the police, and at the public interface of policing. This can contribute to the grand political project of nation-building.

Affirmative action programmes will only succeed if they are implemented with the support of leadership, and in the context of broader organisational change. It will therefore be necessary to win the support of the existing police leadership for the affirmative action programme.

As well as affirmative action in the sense of selective recruitment, training and promotion, the new government would do well to consider selectively dispensing with the services of those members of the force who are not capable of adapting to the new environment and style of policing. (This might be a necessary accompaniment to the disclosures heard at the proposed Truth Commission).


Training and education for police officials are crucial to transformation. Criticisms have been levelled at both the content and process of current police training in South Africa.5

Not only have the South African policing institution been denied access to modern police forces and policing methods in other parts of the work, but for the past decades the SAP have also been particularly hostile to most civilian or "outside" influences in developing the training courses. The result is that South African police training courses have generally not kept up to date with international developments in police training.

Traditional police training is also marked by its faulty theoretical basis and its focus on theory and "chalk and talk" teaching, instead of interactive skills training for real police-work. The end product is police officers who have been through many "education" courses, but who are nonetheless totally under-skilled to deal with the practical realities of police-work. Most importantly, the existing training fails dismally to equip police managers to deal with the rapidly changing demands of a society in transition.

In addition to these general problems with police training, an additional need exists to address the particular problems faced by black police officials, both in the SAP and the former homeland police agencies as part of any affirmative action programme. Not only have black police officers been systematically disadvantaged in all respects, but they are also the victims of institutionalised racism.

Creative new training and management strategies could be utilised to ensure staff cohesion, team-building and productivity6 and as such is also integral to the processes of integration and amalgamation discussed above.

In short appropriate education and training programmes could do much to ease the implementation of organisational change in all spheres of the police organisation.

There are three arenas of training which have considerable potential as transformative vehicles to professionalise the police force and render it more accountable and representative. These are:

  1. The (basic) training of new recruits;
  2. The retraining and upgrading of serving police officers;
  3. Training of "change agents" at the management level who would then be able to guide and manage the process of change within the new police service.

Various groupings, both within the police service and outside of it, have already begun to make inputs into training at all levels. Despite the progress made, there remain a number of pressing training needs:

  1. Training for all serving police officers on "new" subjects, such as group dynamics, affirmative action, human rights and other issues which are integral to the effective transformation and functioning of a professional and representative police service.

  2. Training of civilians for lateral entry into the police service. The need for such lateral entry programmes is motivated by the need for increased representivity (especially at senior levels) and the need to "dilute" the military culture which characterises police-work in South Africa by increasing the proportion of civilian staff.

  3. Specialised programmes for disadvantaged members of the existing police forces to enable them to compete for positions on an equal footing.

Much of the impetus for change and professionalisation in the police service will focus on the arena of training. However, while making a very important contribution, training alone cannot transform undemocratic policing. Ultimately developments in training must be accompanied by the development of politically accountable police institutions and efficient practice.

Establishing the Provincial Tier

While the Constitution states very clearly that there will be one national police service, it also prescribes that this service will be structured in two tiers - national and provincial. Politically, this formulation was a negotiated concession to pro-federalist interest groups, who sought an entirely autonomous police force in each province. The result is a fairly complex and "messy" division of functions between provincial and national police structures.

The obvious implication of the constitutional arrangement is that an entirely new tier of government (provincial legislatures) and of the police organisation has to be created. This process will be costly, and is likely to be bogged down by civil service bureaucracy. In the policing sphere, this is integrally linked to the process of amalgamation and rationalisation of homeland and SAP agencies.

The creation of the provincial tier, will, like many other aspects of restructuring, be subject to the time-frames dictated by the passage of legislation. To further complicate matters, the provincial governments (executives and premiers) will only be given their powers in an ad hoc manner, at the discretion of the National government. This means that although Provincial Executives have been constituted, and Members of the Executives have been given responsibility for policing matters, they in fact have no immediate powers to fulfil their constitutional functions.

In addition to the political and legal problems, the new Constitutional formula is also likely to create complex problems for police-work. The Constitution is not clear on lines of command and decision-making between Provincial and National Commissioners, or on the amount of autonomy given to Provincial Police commissioners. There are also likely to be contests over functions which are constitutionally allocated to one or other tier. An example is the investigation of "organised" crime, which is given as a national function, while all crimes will initially be investigated by provincial crime investigators. A set of criteria will have to be developed to define and allocate different types of crime to different investigation units.

Decentralised decision-making, allows for greater sensitivity and accountability to the community being policed and as such is fundamental to the community policing approach. However, the new Constitution also prescribes that the National Police Commissioner and Minister are responsible for setting and maintaining national standards for all aspects of police-work. This process of setting national standards must be effective from an early stage, in order that the transformation of the police service can proceed uniformly in every part of the country. This is especially important in the light of the historical inequalities and disparities between police forces in the homelands when compare to the SAP.

Empowering and Utilising Civil Society

Traditionally, police policy was based on "in-house" research conducted within the police force itself. It is clear that the research capacity of the new Ministries needs to be developed. The past Law and Order Ministry had no capacity to produce policy independently of the police yet it ignored the policy potential which existed outside of the state.

It is neither necessary nor desirable, that all policy-generating capacity is located within the government on the contrary it is preferable that research and policy work be in keeping with the principle that policing in a democracy is fundamentally a joint exercise between police and community, the role of civil society should be valued and enhanced. In recent years there has been a growing recognition that civil society is not the enemy of the police, but a necessary partner in a joint endeavour for community safety.

The Police Board, a structure set up under the National Peace Accord in 1991, is a manifestation of this acceptance of civilians as legitimate actors in the policing arena. The Police Board, however, was limited in three main respects. Firstly, it was limited to making recommendations to the Minister of Law and Order and had no power in the process to enforce decisions or follow up on its recommendations. Secondly, the Board was limited in its mandate as to what its areas of jurisdiction were. It could not make any policy recommendations on aspects of operational policing. Thirdly, it was not purely a civilian structure. Half of its members were from the various policing agencies.

In contrast to the failed Police Board model, we propose the coordination of civil society policy capacity and intervention through the establishment of a Police Foundation. This Police Foundation would be funded by the government, but must operate in a semi-autonomous manner, conducting research and other projects - either at the behest of the Ministry of police, or independently. Civil society involvement in police policy work has benefits for both the police and for civil society;

It will maximise the degree of public participation in the manner in the regulation of the police. Furthermore non-government, or joint police-civil initiatives are often more cost-effective and eliminate duplication and may help to facilitate co-operation on policing in the Southern African sub region. Finally critical, transparent research and policy-making processes are not only more effective, but are also consistent with the new impetus to democratisation in South Africa.


In addition to the priorities listed above, it remains to note that the process of creating the new police service is critical. For this reason, the management and monitoring of the transformation process must be emphasised, particularly within the police organisation, responsible government departments and civil society.

Institutional transformation will be driven by the political agendas of the responsible executives, and by pressure from the "clients" of the police service - the community. However, it will only succeed if the police officials themselves, and particularly the emerging leadership, are committed to the process of change. A new government is unlikely to be able to foist effective change on an unwilling police organisation.

In this regard, the prolonged negotiations process has had some benefits. Good working relationships have been built between the new political leadership and many of the police leaders, and joint civil-police structures created under the Peace Accord and for the elections have demonstrated that co-operation is possible. In many senses, a sound basis has been laid for a three-way partnership between the police, government, and civil society bodies, to take the process of creating the new police service forward.


1 See Shearing & Brogden 1994, Community Peace Foundation 1994, and Scharf 1994

2 See Rauch 1993

3 See Marais 1992

4 Varney H 1994, Citizen Article 15/06/1994

5 See Rauch 1992, Marais 1993

6 See Scharf 1993


Citizen 15/06/94 Duarte Calls for Probe on Charges of SAPS torture

Fernandez L (1990) Police abuse of Power : A historical review paper presented to HSRC Victimisation Conference

Haysom N (1991) The Police in a New South Africa: Accountability and Control Paper presented at CCJ Conference on Policing June 1991

Marais E (1992) Policing the Periphery: Police and Society in South Africa's Homelands Paper presented to 1992 ASSA Conference, Pretoria

Marais 1993: Submission to international training commission

Rauch J (1992) A Preliminary Assessment of the Impact of the Peace Accord Code of Conduct on Police Behaviour

Rauch J (1992) South African Police Basic Training: A preliminary assessment. Paper presented at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Seminar No. 3, April.

Scharf W: Policing in Transition: Institute of Criminology - University of Cape Town, 1994

Scharf W: 1993: Memo Unlearning Racism and Sexism

Varney: Transitional Executive Council Kwa-Zulu Police Hit squad Report (1994).


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