The State of Community Police Forums (CPFs) and Their Challenges

The State of Community Police Forums (CPFs) and Their Challenges

Mistry, D. (1996). The State of Community Police Forums (CPFs) and Their Challenges. Paper presented at Crimsa/Unisa's Third International Crime Conference, Crime and Justice in the Nineties, Unisa Pretoria, 3-5 July.


Duxita Mistry

Paper presented at Crimsa/Unisa's Third International Crime Conference, Crime and Justice in the Nineties, Unisa Pretoria, 3-5 July 1996.

Duxita Mistry is a former Researcher in the Criminal Justice Programme at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

Aim of Research

The aim of this research was to examine the state of CPFs around Gauteng, how they were functioning and if they were experiencing any problems. Also, it attempts to ascertain whether those interviewed thought that CPFs have enduring value.

Research Methodology

The original idea for the paper stemmed from workshops which were conducted for women's organisations on issues such as getting representation on the local CPF and for the CPFs themselves on community policing and their powers and functions. The information obtained and issues raised at these workshops motivated me to contact other CPFs in various areas to find out whether there were any similarities or differences.

Certain CPFs such as Alexandra, Evaton, Eldorado Park, Ennerdale, Lenasia, Parkview, Sandton, Moroka and Tembisa were targeted for interviews in order to get a good spread between black and white areas. Also, useful comparisons could be made between what I call black CPFs and white CPFs.

Qualitative methodology was used for the study since it suited the kind of research to be conducted. The chairperson of each CPF was contacted by telephone either directly or through the station commissioner of the particular police station when the CPF member did not have a contact number at home or work. Most people were quite agreeable about being interviewed over the telephone. They were assured of confidentiality and the fact that no names would be mentioned in the paper. However, it has not been easy to get hold of people and the process has taken longer than anticipated. Therefore, more interviews will be conducted well into June so as to gain more diverse views amongst the CPFs and their members. A questionnaire made up of open questions was drawn up by the researcher and if other issues were raised by the person being interviewed, the researcher followed them up if necessary. The responses to questions were written down by the interviewer. Some people did ask for a copy of the paper once it was completed.

The Legal Framework

The bad relationship between the police and black communities in particular necessitated that CPFs are legally provided for in legislation and therefore legal bodies. This would place an obligation on the police and communities to start working on their relationship. The establishment of CPFs was provided for in section 221(2) of the Constitution and section 19(1) of the South African Police Services (SAPS) Act 68 of 1995. The objectives of CPFs are clearly stated in section 18(1) of the SAPS Act.

CPFs together with the police should establish and maintain a partnership with thecommunity, promote communication between the police and the community, promote cooperation and ensure that the police fulfil the needs of the community in respect of policing, improve the service of the police to the community, improve transparency and accountability of the SAPS and promote joint problem identification and problem solving.

The Establishment of Community Police Forums (CPFs)

As mentioned above the new Constitution prescribed the establishment of CPFs. Thus, it was mandatory that CPFs be established (Draft report, CSVR p1).1 The Advisory Committee to the national Minister for Safety and Security formed a subcommittee which was tasked with outlining basic guidelines for the establishment of forums.2 These guidelines served only as the minimum requirements for the formation of forums in the period prior to the promulgation of the Police Act in 1995.3 It became apparent that the various MECs for Safety and Security in the provinces would be primarily responsible for the formation of these forums in terms of the guidelines which were issued by the national ministry.4 In April 1995, the Office of the MEC for Safety and Security held a two day conference on community policing at the Braamfontein Recreation Centre. One of the aims was to outline guidelines for the operation of CPFs including discussion around their budgets and legal status.

Gauteng was the first province to implement community policing, through establishing CPFs, on a large scale.5 In 1994 the MEC for Safety and Security in Gauteng contracted the Gauteng Community Policing Project to facilitate the formation of CPFs in the province.6 The Gauteng Community Policing Project was made up of a large group of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) including the Policing Research Project (PRP), IDASA, Wilgespruit Fellowship Centre, Peace Action and IMSSA amongst others.7 The SAPS as well as members of the provincial ministry were involved in the planning and implementation processes.8 This project began the process of setting up CPFs and thus improving relationships between the police and the community. Workshops were held with the community and the police (either together or separately) to ascertain what kind of relationship they had, if there were any problems between them and possible solutions. These workshops highlighted the problems experienced by the community with the police and vice versa. There were numerous problems in the relationship between the community and the police but only a few are listed for the sake of brevity. The community viewed the police as agents of the previous government who were brutal in their dealings with black communities. Furthermore, the police and the specialised units hunted down political activists in black townships and did not really do police work in the strictest sense of the word. For example, crime prevention. The advent of alternative policing structures such as Self Defence Units (SDU) and Self Protection Units (SPU) clearly showed the extent to which the police were disliked in the black communities. The police on the other hand felt these communities withheld information from them and did not cooperate. They even regarded the communities as hostile to the police. "No go" areas were an example of this phenomenon. The police were of the opinion that the communities protected wanted suspects. Communication between the community and the police was poor. The workshops were a mechanism to address the above mentioned problems.

With the above legal framework in mind CPFs have been shaped by the dynamics operating within communities. In some areas especially the historically black ones, people have aligned themselves according to political parties and these represent their interests on the CPF. But in other areas such as the historically white ones political representation is not an overriding factor. In fact it is discouraged. CPFs were set up with much enthusiasm and hope that they would facilitate relations between the community and the police. Two years have passed and CPFs in general are experiencing problems. This is not surprising given that they are a fairly new phenomenon in the country. A number of concerns have been voiced by members of CPFs who were interviewed.

Concerns of CPF Members


CPFs should be representative of the community in the area. In some cases subforums have been established to enable communities to articulate their concerns and interests in a more effective way. A women's group in the Vaal raised serious concerns about representivity on the local CPF. They are not represented at the central forum which is dominated by political parties. This is also found in other areas where political parties have seen the CPF as a vehicle to push their agenda more forcefully at a local level. The women's problems stem mainly from their relationship with the police. When women have gone to the police station to lay charges of domestic violence and rape against their partners or strangers, the police have refused to take their statements and turned them away. Thus, the women turned to the CPF but to no avail. In essence, women's issues are not addressed at all at the forum and this is a source of frustration for them. The former station commander and another high ranking officer represented the police at the CPF but constables whom members of the public first meet at the charge office do not attend these meetings.

The Youth

Another important constituency are the youth who are not always represented on the CPFs. At a CPF in the Vaal, the youth are represented on the forum and they have done well in their community. For example, they started football teams in order to keep their peers off the streets. The local CPF is monitoring this initiative. In the north of Johannesburg one CPF has a youth forum and it is a portfolio on the management committee. They have undertaken campaigns such as adopt-a-cop. Another CPF in the vicinity does not have a youth subforum but arranges consultative forums with various organisations instead. These meet on a monthly or quarterly basis as the need arises and discuss pertinent issues as well as reportbacks from the organisations present. Therefore, the youth are part of the broader forum. In the south of Johannesburg a CPF launched its youth initiative a short while ago but it was struggling. But this stemmed from the fact that this CPF was only properly constituted a year ago. Thus, it had been experiencing problems in getting the CPF off the ground so the youth constituency still had to be nurtured.

Domestic Workers

At CPFs in the north of Johannesburg, which are predominantly still white suburbs, some people are concerned about the lack of representation of domestic workers on the CPF given the fact that they live and work in the areas. Some people are not sure how to go about getting them together to inform them of the existence and importance of the CPF. A few reasons for this were put forward by a member of a CPF in the north of Johannesburg. For instance, perhaps there is a lack of willingness to participate in what is perceived as a mainly white forum, suspicion on the part of domestics about the CPF and maybe they do not feel empowered enough to take part. Suggestions have been made about approaching them through the ANC newsletter and asking the PRP to hold a workshop on community policing and CPFs. But other than these no creative ways have been found to draw them into the forums. Other CPF members told me they saw no need to include them but more importantly they had not given this constituency much thought. Domestic workers form a large part of the population in predominantly white areas and therefore their interests should ideally be represented at these CPFs.

Police Representatives

Another issue is the representatives which the police have at the CPF. It is not unusual to find the station commissioner, community relations officer and another officer attending CPF meetings. Yet, it is the charge office personnel whom the public first meet when contacting the station. But more often than not they do not attend CPF meetings, CPF members are unknown to them and they are not informed about the powers and functions of CPFs and community policing. They are also not given feedback on the CPF meetings by their colleagues. This is a serious shortcoming because members of the community then perceive the police to be resistant to community policing and CPFs. At a workshop for police officials at Moroka police station we found that most of them did not know what community policing entailed, who the CPF members were and what they were doing in their office at the station because they had never been informed by their station commissioner or community relations officer. All they heard was that the members of the CPF complained about the service they rendered but never praised their good work. This is a problem common to most police stations and illustrates that communication and education is rather poor.

Community Involvement

At a CPF meeting in Evaton last year members raised a few concerns. They felt that the level of community involvement in the CPF was problematic. Furthermore, community members were concerned that their level of involvement in the CPF did not improve their status or circumstances although they assisted police with police work. Yet, police officials were promoted in the course of their duty. The involvement of these members in the CPF has perhaps given them false expectations. This year, in an interview with the researcher, members of that CPF said more people from the community were attending their meetings and a great deal of interest was expressed in the workings of the CPF. Mainly because the CPF members had worked hard to win the community over and got involved in various endeavours such as assisting the police in tracking down suspects thereby making the area safer.

Some CPFs in the north of Johannesburg felt that some people in these communities were apathetic bearing in mind that there was no history of community participation in these areas. It was difficult to get people to attend meetings and motivate them to join the CPF. They were eager to donate money but not their time. However, when they perceive the crime rate to escalate and their safety to be threatened there is a high turn out at CPF meetings. In the normal course of events people retire behind their high walls, get on with their lives and leave such activities to other people. Those that are involved are in touch with the dynamics and needs of the community. In Parkview the area is divided into four subforums. Some are functioning well because a few people are committed and others are struggling.


Section 23(2) of the SAPS Act states that members of CPFs render their services on a voluntary basis and have no claim to compensation. Members of a CPF in the Vaal, however, felt they should be compensated financially for services rendered. Some had been volunteers in various organisations for ten years. They felt that since there was a new government in power, gone were the days when they provided their services for free. A member of the Alex CPF said it was hard because they have families who must eat and they cannot understand why they are not paid for all the time they devote to this kind of work. Similar sentiments were expressed by members of CPFs in other black areas. A member of the Alex CPF felt that in the long run the MEC for Safety and Security should consider remunerating people for the services they render since they do risk their lives. Money that they may earn should be a token of thanks rather than a salary because this can be a source of tension. A member of the Tembisa CPF told me they had written to the MEC Jessie Duarte asking her to consider the hiring of a full time administrator for their forum. This person would be on the payroll of the MECs office and work from the community relations officers desk. Apparently nine other CPFs in the North East Rand area have forwarded the same proposal to the MEC. However, they have not had any response from that office. This was not an issue for members of white CPFs since they are usually employed or retired people living on their pensions.

However, the Office of the MEC for Safety and Security in Gauteng is of the opinion that they do not foresee paying salaries for those who sit on CPFs in the near future. It would create a great burden for them and there isn't an endless supply of money available for this. If individual CPFs have the funds, however, and feel the need to employ a person or persons on a full time basis then it should be their decision, provided that this practice is in their constitution and members are in agreement. The people whom I interviewed seemed genuinely concerned about the welfare of their communities and the kind of service provided by the police. Therefore although they were not paid they would continue to devote their time and energy to the CPF.

Risks of Involvement in CPFs

The risks of involvement are related to the remuneration issue because members of mainly black CPFs feel they should be compensated for putting their lives on the line. According to them, their lives were at risk as they acted as a buffer between the community and the police. They were also being called "impimpis" by some people in the community because they are seen moving up and down in the townships with police. Some members of the community in townships perceived CPF members to be selling them to the police. Furthermore, criminals in the area obviously disliked the fact that members of the community assisted the police in fighting crime. This was not even an issue for members of mainly white CPFs. Understandably so since they have not had the same issues and problems to grapple with like black communities vis a vis the police.


Some of the CPFs are able to raise funds from the surrounding community but others are not. Those who have been able to do so have managed to buy various items for the police. For instance Sandton Precinct has repaired all police vehicles, bought motor bikes, bulletproof vests etc. They have a system whereby money is collected from memberships on a voluntary basis and this ensures that there is a cashflow. Also, the CPF identifies needs and gaps in the resources of the police and addresses these. This is a prime example of a CPF in an affluent area which has been able to fundraise effectively because of the socio-economic profile of the community in its area. It is therefore able to equip the police to do their work better. This makes a great difference in the relationship between the community and the police.

By contrast a CPF in the Vaal has been unable to raise funds within the community because it exists in an informal settlement and the businesses around it do not make enough money to survive let alone to donate any to a CPF. This is a problem experienced by most black CPFs. They have been unable to raise funds to embark on projects. Another reason for their inability to raise funds is their lack of expertise. Therefore, in order to assist CPFs in these disadvantaged communities the Office of the MEC for Safety and Security gave each CPF including those situated in "better off" areas in Gauteng five thousand rand initially provided they were able to produce a constitution and minutes of meetings held. Thereafter, a second payment of fifteen thousand rand was given to them. The money was to be used for the running of the CPF and priorities which they had identified. Yet some CPFs did not know how to spend the money and hoped that the MEC would issue guidelines in this regard. Others like the Eldorado Park CPF have not spent any of the money. The members of this CPF want to strategise on how best to use it. In the meantime they have held dances and sold raffle tickets to raise money for projects the CPF identified. The Area Boards were initially granted an amount of eight thousand rand and a further nineteen thousand rand was forwarded to them to assist many of the subforums who were not given funds during the initial allocations.9 However, in general there is a need for CPF members to be taught fundraising skills as well as bookkeeping and budgeting in order that they use the money wisely.

CPFs and the Police

There are differences between black and white CPFs particularly in relation to the police. Black CPFs have asserted their authority and demanded more than white CPFs from the police in their area. This is mainly because of the past when the police were used by the former government to quell political activism amongst blacks. So, in essence the relationship between black people and the police has never been good. Therefore, I found that some black CPFs have taken the aims of CPFs quite seriously because of their history of political activism. For example, ensuring the police who serve them are accountable and transparent with regard to their actions. They actively monitor the service the police provide and take problems raised by the community to the police and see to it that these are addressed to their satisfaction. The CPFs see themselves as watchdogs and assist the local police to determine local policing priorities. Furthermore, they are able to guide the police to where suspects are hiding and this information is obtained from members of the community who are willing to come forward in these matters. Empowerment has been the key word for these CPFs. The fact that the CPF is a legitimate body with various powers and functions empowers people to challenge and question police actions in a constructive manner. This new relationship has been beneficial to both the community and the police.

By contrast the white CPFs have not had the same kind of experience with the police in their areas. They received "normal" policing so to speak and because of this many of the CPFs in white areas have been loathe to criticise, hold the police accountable for their actions and insist on them being transparent. I would go as far as saying the kind of democratic policing insisted on by blacks has not been demanded by whites. They are reluctant to do this as they feel it is "interference" in police work and also police have perhaps been perceived as "figures of authority" (Interview with member of CPF from the north of Johannesburg). This is symptomatic of "white middle class people who have no notion of grassroots level work" (Interview with CPF member from the north of Johannesburg). Some are slowly beginning to realise the importance of questioning police actions but it has and will take some time before they are really comfortable with assuming this role. Perhaps it is because white CPFs have been mainly concerned with curbing crime in their areas that they have neglected issues such as accountability and transparency of the police service. But I would argue in order for them to play a more meaningful role and to ensure the sustainability of their CPFs they should consider that role seriously.

The Local Government Elections

The local government elections last year dealt a blow to many CPFs. Quite a few of their members were elected to local government thus rendering the CPFs helpless in some instances. However, the process of local government transition which took place at a local level predate the commencement of national negotiations and continues well beyond the election of a government of national unity.10 The early 1990s saw the mushrooming of local level negotiations which involved representatives from various local government structures, business, municipality, service providers, civic and residents associations, political parties, trade unions and community organisations.11 The local forums, through which interactions between all stakeholder groups took place, became the academy of the new South African democracy.12 Through these forums, "networks and relationships were built, mutual learning took place and a new culture of governance and consensus building developed".13 But as Rakgoadi points out these were and are still fraught with tensions and instabilities. One of the fears expressed at the time was that "debates and developments in local government would affect the functioning of CPFs at a local level".14 These forums could be an avenue where tensions in local government manifest because some of the stakeholder groups, especially political parties, in CPFs will contest the local government elections.15 What did happen in reality to CPFs at the time of the local government elections was that some of their members became candidates and were successful in being elected. Thus, they suffered losses in terms of human resources and had to rebuild their capacity. They were unprepared for this situation. Moreover, it is not inconceivable that CPF members would seek election in local government because they are paid for that work. CPFs were a stepping stone for some people. They had to recruit and nominate more people from the community. It was as a result of this as well that the capacity building project was initiated by the partnership. Civil society has an obligation to assist and sustain these bodies principally because they are funded by public money and overseas donor agencies which have a commitment to empower communities.

Sustainability of CPFs

In order for CPFs to sustain themselves capacity building has to be encouraged and developed. For instance, in the form of training for all CPF members. Late last year several non governmental organisations (NGOs) met to discuss the possibility of training CPF members in a variety of skills. The idea for the training came from the many individual requests CPFs made to the various NGOs and from the experiences of people who were asked to facilitate matters at CPFs. The latter were informed of the needs of CPFs. Based on this, the NGOs who were in partnership in the first phase of the establishment CPFs came together to discuss how to address these needs. CASE and an independent consultant were commissioned to do a needs analysis of CPFs. The results were obtained two months later and training in various skills identified. The need was for fundraising skills, basic bookkeeping and budgeting, chairing a meeting, facilitation skills, minute taking, record keeping, communication and public relations skills as well as conflict resolution skills amongst others. Moreover, people wanted to know about the constitution and the bill of rights, their rights, criminal law, community policing and the role of CPFs – their powers and functions. The various NGOs involved identified organisations who could offer training and they were asked to devise packages. Presentations were made to the MEC, Provincial commissioner, Area Commissioners and Area Boards. CPFs were enthusiastic about the training. Training began in February this year and the first phase has been completed. The idea behind the training was to empower people and to assist them with making their CPFs more efficient and effective. Those who attended the training had to make packages they received available to their colleagues as well as pass the knowledge they acquired onto them. We did experience a few problems such as poor attendance, lack of communication between CPF members and at the Area Board level, abuse of facilities and the wrong people attending training. But it has been a learning experience for all those involved in the process. An evaluation of the first phase was conducted in early May together with people who had attended the training. The purpose of the evaluation was to identify any problems participants had with the kind of training being offered. The second phase of the project will resume in late July or early August.

An interesting observation is that although apartheid has officially been done away with and we have a government of national unity, CPFs are still formed along racial lines and the issues which the forums raise with the police are quite different. Therefore it has been necessary for the purposes of this paper to label them black or white CPFs. This phenomenon will perhaps change over time.

The Office of the MEC for Safety and Security in Gauteng carried out an audit of CPFs recently and found that there are 134 functional forums, and a further 11 subforums, bringing the total to 145.16 Furthermore, Gauteng has seven Area Boards under which each CPF or subforum falls.17 Another new development from the MECs Office was the production of financial guidelines for CPFs. This document clearly stated at the outset that the money given by the MECs Office could not be used either for personal cell phone accounts of individual CPF members or for salaries or wages to CPF members.18

Recently, at a national level some development around a policy for CPFs has taken place. A draft national policy document on CPFs has been drawn up in order to create uniformity as well as standardise forums. It is also part of the national ministry's attempt to regulate CPFs and the activities they undertake. This has arisen in the light of the different forms CPFs have taken in the provinces where they have been established. For example, in Gauteng the CPFs are at an advanced stage compared to those in the other provinces where they still have to be set up. Problems may arise when this document is discussed in communities and especially in Gauteng where regulation has perhaps come too late given the progress that has been made. An alternative for CPFs is establish section 21 companies (non profit) in order to obtain and manage their funds more effectively since government funding may be discontinued. This would still entail I argue financial accountability to the community and the office of the MEC for Safety and Security. But the responsibility of the CPF towards the community vis a vis the police should not be diminished even though it has registered as a section 21 company.

In the long term it would be a good idea for CPFs to have strategic planning meetings in order to plan their activities more effectively. This would give them some vision as to where they are going and what they hope to achieve. Furthermore, they would be able to draw more people from the community if they have concrete plans. However, apathy is not easy to overcome but perhaps perseverance and visible success would enhance interest in the CPFs. Projects which have the support of the community could ensure that CPFs are around for a long time.

This is the challenge which lies ahead for civil society, government and the members of the CPF. After all, the partnership between the police and the community plays itself out in the community police forum, which is enshrined in the Constitution.19

The establishment of CPFs was a great innovation and the challenge to one and all is to envisage a creative future for these structures. It cannot be left to the government, bearing in mind that CPFs were created when the concept community policing was not fully conceived. A great deal has been accomplished by bringing the community and the police together at the CPFs. However, one cannot say that all is well with the CPFs. Most of those interviewed thought their CPFs were functioning well but there are those who still experience problems with the police. Some still have to work on their relationships with the police and it will take time. But if all concerned began with the idea that community policing was partnership policing perhaps more progress would be made.


1 Draft Report of Community Policing in Gauteng

2 ibid

3 ibid

4 ibid

5 ibid

6 opcit page 2

7 ibid

8 ibid

9 Audit of CPFs

10 Rakgoadi, July 1995

11 ibid

12 ibid

13 Swilling and Boya quoted by Rakgoadi

14 ibid

15 ibid

16 Audit of CPFs

17 ibid

18 Financial guidelines for CPFs

19 Swilling and Boya page 4


Community Policing in Gauteng: "A Mammoth Task to Contemplate", Draft Report compiled by Sylvester Rakgoadi and assisted by Kindiza Ngubeni and Duxita Mistry, The Policing Research Project at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation 1995.

Rakgoadi S, Community Policing and Governance, Occasional paper written for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, July 1995.

Sealey S, Audit of Community Police Forums and Financial Guidelines for Community Police Forums, Deputy Director Facilitation, Office of the MEC for Safety and Security Gauteng, 10 May 1996.

Swilling & Boya, Local Transition and the Challenge of Sustainable Development, The Greater Johannesburg case 1994.

© Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

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