Despite widespread concerns about violence tight security around the April elections ensured that they proceeded relatively peacefully. Politically-linked conflict did not, however, disappear after the elections, and nor was there any significant change in well-established patterns of other forms of violent crime. Although drastic improvements in policing can reduce crime it is only when South Africans learn to stop using violence as a means to solve their everyday problems that our society will become safer for all.

Post election political violence

Following the elections there were a number of incidents involving attacks on ANC and IFP supporters, especially in the Greytown area where two of those murdered were councillors (one ANC, one IFP).

During May COPE supporters at Glebelands hostel in Durban were allegedly assaulted and forced out of their rooms by ANC supporters. The ANC claimed that activities at the hostel were directed at criminals. There have been a number of arrests and court cases are pending.

Violence in the Kennedy Road informal settlement, which started on 26 September with attacks on homes and the deaths of two residents also appears to have political overtones. This settlement was a base for a non political party activist group representing the interests of shack dwellers, Abahlali baseMjondolo. This movement has successfully challenged the KZN Slums Act, which was struck down by Concourt in October. Office bearers and supporters of Abahlali were targeted in the attacks and driven out of the settlement. Credible evidence points fingers at certain ANC representatives, but the party maintains that motives were criminal. Church leaders and Amnesty International have called for an impartial Commission of Enquiry into what happened.

Ethnic overtones to the violence in Glebelands and Kennedy Road are alleged, with Xhosas (COPE) targeted. Similarly, there were a number of attacks against non-South Africans, the most serious taking place on 4 January when a sizeable group of armed people proceeded past the police station in the centre of Durban, in full view of the police, and attacked foreigners in a nearby building, forcing some out of windows. Two men died. Among those arrested and facing charges of public violence is the local ANC councillor. The police have maintained that the action against foreigners was an ‘anti crime’ one.  Do police and politicians not know that anti-crime activities should be undertaken by the SAPS, not by armed vigilante mobs?

Crime and policing

Among those targeted by well armed criminals are police members, with the most recent figures showing that 105 have died country wide in the line of duty ( 237 died in 1995). Calls by politicians and the newly appointed national SAPS commissioner  to ‘shoot to kill’ were accompanied by announcements of pending amendments to governing legislation to give police more powers.  Since the police already have the power to defend themselves when attacked, the purpose of the rhetoric, and mooted legislative change, is not clear. Given the serious problems within the SAPS itself such calls could encourage further abuse of power by ill-disciplined, corrupt members.

Recent events show the best and worst of policing. Following a shootout in Gamalakhe, Margate, Inspector Trevor Moodley, although injured, assisted two injured colleagues (on of whom has since tragically died) to safety. However, in Howick a local policeman, with an alleged history of corruption, was among those charged for the murder of prominent farmer Warwick Dorning, having been found in possession of Dorning’s stolen property. The SAPS has many hard working, honest members who risk their lives on a daily basis. Their safety is further jeopardised by the large number of criminals masquerading as police members. Among the many crimes of which police members were accused and/or convicted during 2009 were murder, rape, armed robbery and defeating the ends of justice. Forensic evidence shows that SAPS members still routinely torture suspects. It is likely that members charged and convicted represent the tip of the iceberg of police corruption.

Co-inciding with calls to shoot to kill a record number of people died at the hands of the police. The right of police to shoot back when under attack, as in Gamalakhe, is not disputed. The problem is that given the levels of corruption in the service there is good reason to believe that police members may execute people who could expose their own nefarious activities. In many cases there are no independent witnesses, and those killed are described as ‘suspects’, many of whom might never have been convicted in a court of law.  Despite condemning vigilantism, the police are in some instances bypassing the criminal justice system..

Priorities for 2010

Criminality in the SAPS should be addressed urgently, especially through strengthening the Independent Complaints Directorate.  Transgressors should be dismissed, not simply reshuffled. Poor performance and ill-discipline must be addressed urgently – not by reverting to apartheid military ranks but by proper management, so clearly lacking in far too many stations.

Not nearly enough has been done about illegal weapons, with most of the caches which flooded into the province during the 1980s and 1990s unaccounted for. It is not enough to remove and destroy illegal weapons : It is essential to expose the networks through which these weapons are obtained. How do taxi men obtain police/military issue R5 rifles, often used in taxi conflict?

Police management should stop wasting taxpayers money – on a private jet, and on a magazine to improve the image of police (which would improve itself if all police did their jobs properly). Such funds should be diverted to resources, including bullet proof vests, for police members.

The problem of violence goes beyond policing – it starts with what children learn in their homes and schools. There can be no progress until something is done about the appalling levels of violence, including rape, directed against women and children, including by partners, parents and teachers. The development of conscience hinges on decent parenting and research has shown that most children grow up with a conspicuous lack of appropriate role models. The longer we take to stop abusing children, and teaching them that there are far more constructive ways to solve problems than the use of violence, the longer it will take for South Africa to escape from the vicious cycle of violence in which we remain trapped.


See also full reports on election-related violence

Police deaths in 1995 from South Aflrican Human Rights Yearbook 1996 ed Louw et al, Centre Sociolegal Studies, Durban, 1998