Reitumetse Makwea

By Reitumetse Makwea

Journalist


Brutal cops out of control: Police misconduct costs SA more than R2 billion

Officials seem to believe they are above the law, which is why people have lost trust.


Lawlessness in SA is not only threatening the growth of the economy but its democracy as well, according to experts, as public trust in law enforcement agencies in the country continues to plunge. Studies have recorded low levels of public trust in law enforcement agencies since 2022 and public confidence continued to decline following a video which went viral of four VIP Protection Unit members assaulting civilians on the N1 highway last weekend. According to political analyst Dr Ntsikelelo Breakfast, the constant state-versus-civilian attitude from law enforcement officials was a clear example of police brutality and a general disregard for…

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Lawlessness in SA is not only threatening the growth of the economy but its democracy as well, according to experts, as public trust in law enforcement agencies in the country continues to plunge.

Studies have recorded low levels of public trust in law enforcement agencies since 2022 and public confidence continued to decline following a video which went viral of four VIP Protection Unit members assaulting civilians on the N1 highway last weekend.

According to political analyst Dr Ntsikelelo Breakfast, the constant state-versus-civilian attitude from law enforcement officials was a clear example of police brutality and a general disregard for the law.

“People are losing hope and trust because how can you trust the same people that attack you? There seems to be an abuse of power. People think that they can do as they please, that they’re exempted from the law,” he said.

“It does pose a threat to democracy, also to the culture of human rights because we’re looking at a violation of human rights and a violation of the right to human dignity.”

However, he said, it was not clear how it would affect investors, “because those guys are not in charge or a part of production”.

“But as far as crime is concerned, I cannot dispute the nexus between security and development. There is that connection.”

In an interview with Newzroom Afrika, Institute for Security Studies’ Willem Els said public trust in the police following the July 2021 unrest was almost at zero and had tanked to 27%, according to the Human Sciences Research Council.

“And this incident just contributed to the perception the public already had about the police, that they are completely incompetent and out of hand,” he said.

Els said over the past five years, civil claims because of police misconduct had risen 52% and cost more than R2 billion, which could have been used to combat crime.

“It’s a management problem,” he added.

Political and economic analyst Pule Matebesi argued that SA was already on a slippery slope.

“We still have the tourism security issue hanging over our head, our stance on the Russia-Ukraine war and even the electricity crisis,” he said.

“We are slowly becoming an unruly country and it’s no doubt that when investors look at our country. They see chaos. Who would want to invest in a crumbling country?

“What we saw was an act of lawlessness and abuse of power. We cannot portray ourselves as a safe tourist destination when law enforcement has a brutality issue.”

According to Matebesi, President Cyril Ramaphosa had said this year that “South Africa is governed by the rule of law. We are a constitutional democracy”.

“Regime change can only come about through the vote. It cannot come about through anarchy, unleashing disorder in the country,” Ramaphosa added.

Matebesi claimed the VIP Protection Unit members’ affiliation to government and the country’s leaders “speaks volumes”.

As law enforcement officials, there were procedures according to the law which had to be followed.

In a note – South Africans have low trust in their police. Here’s why, published by Corruption Watch, Human Sciences Research Council – researchers Benjamin Roberts and Steven Gordon said the legitimacy of legal authorities was recognised globally as crucial for the state’s ability to function in a justifiable and effective manner, and “this applies, in particular, to the police”.

They recommended “dispensing with an excessively hierarchical police culture, promoting competent and ethical police leadership, as well as strengthening other parts of the overall system of police governance”.

Plus, “the implementation of a non-militaristic policing ethos. This should be framed around a service culture and use of minimal force.

“It also requires police to put more measures in place to monitor and control the use of force, and promote a culture of police accountability.

“These ideas warrant serious attention. They matter fundamentally for preventing further instances of police misuse of force, corruption among senior officials and police ineffectiveness in handling crime.

“This is crucial for stemming and reversing the eroding confidence in the badge.”

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