Join Friends of Pambazuka

Subscribe for Free!

Fahamu Bulletin Archive

About our Programmes

Donate to Pambazuka News!

Follow Us

delicious bookmarks facebook twitter

Pambazuka News

Latest titles from Pambazuka Press

African Sexualities

Earth Grab A Reader
Sylvia Tamale
A groundbreaking book, accessible but scholarly, by African activists. It uses research, life stories and artistic expression to examine dominant and deviant sexualities, and investigate the intersections between sex, power, masculinities and femininities
Buy now

Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya

From Citizen to Refugee Horace Campbell
In this elegantly written and incisive account, scholar Horace Campbell investigates the political and economic crises of the early twenty-first century through the prism of NATO's intervention in Libya.
Buy now

Queer African Reader

Demystifying Aid Edited by Sokari Ekine, Hakima Abbas
A diverse collection of writing from across the continent exploring African LGBTI liberation: identity, tactics for activism, international solidarity, homophobia and global politics, religion and culture, and intersections with social justice movements. A richness of voices, a multiplicity of discourses, a quiverful of arguments. African queers writing for each other, theorising ourselves, making our ...more
Buy now

China and Angola

African Awakening A Marriage of Convenience?
Edited by Marcus Power, Ana Alves
This book focuses on the increased co-operation between Angola and China and shows that although relations with China might have bolstered regime stability and boosted the international standing of the Angolan government, China is not regarded as a long term strategic partner.
Buy now

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

To Cook a ContinentWalter Rodney
Rodney shows how the imperial countries of Europe, and subsequently the US, bear major responsibility for impoverishing Africa. They have been joined in this exploitation by agents or unwitting accomplices both in the North and in Africa.
Buy now

Pambazuka News Broadcasts

Pambazuka broadcasts feature audio and video content with cutting edge commentary and debate from social justice movements across the continent.

See the list of episodes.


This site has been established by Fahamu to provide regular feedback to African civil society organisations on what is happening with the African Union.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.


South Africa: Police brutality and service delivery protests

Mphutlane wa Bofelo

2011-04-21, Issue 526

Bookmark and Share

Printer friendly version

The arrest of six policemen for last week’s murder of protestor Andries Tatane is ‘a quick ploy to take attention away from the systemic factors that inform police brutality’, says Mphutlane wa Bofelo. Shouldn’t the country’s police force protect the interests of communities rather than criminalising service delivery protests?

The six policemen arrested for the murder of protestor, Andries Tatane in Meqheleng Township in Ficksburg in South Africa’s Free State are 'political scapegoats'. To put it bluntly, the six are 'sacrificial goats' on the altar of populist, grandstanding and electioneering politics. Their arrest is a quick ploy to take attention away from the systemic factors that inform police brutality. It is aimed at absolving the collective responsibility of South African Police Services (SAPS) and its political principal, the ANC-led government. It is the timing of the incident rather than government's intolerance to police brutality that informs the arrest of the six cops. The number of incidents of intimidation, harassment, torture, arrest and shooting of protestors by police during peaceful protest action in the post 1994, neo-apartheid dispensation is alarming. Families, individuals and organisations that lay complaints to the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) and various state institutions about incidents of illegal arrests and illegal shootings, harassment and torture and ‘disappeared dockets’ often wait forever for any kind of response.

Usually there is hardly a public announcement, let alone a report of investigation of incidents of police brutality. Instead, incidents of harsh repression of protests by the police are often followed by stern pronouncements by the state and government officials amounting to criminalisation of protest action and radical acts of civil disobedience. These statements are often accompanied by warnings to the public that the police will deal harshly with those involved in these acts. As a matter of fact, statements labelling civil disobedience as criminal acts and amounting to threats of harsh police action have featured in the state of the nation addresses of both former president, Thabo Mbeki and the current state president, Jacob Zuma. When you add ‘the shoot-to-kill’ injunction of the police chief Bheki Cele to state indifference to public complaints and public pronouncements that criminalise protest action and justify repressive measures to suppress it, you have a policy and systematic framework that sanctions and fuels police brutality.

As for the protests against lack of service delivery, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that public discontent is mainly the result of failure of government policies and programmes to provide sustainable and quality jobs, free and quality public education, health and transport, decent and habitable housing and free water and electricity to all citizens. There is also common agreement that the protests are fuelled by an absence of genuine and direct participation of communities in the design, implementation and evaluation of planning, governance and development; the complete disregard of public opinion; and the capture of ward committees and other public platforms and state institutions and resources by narrow and selfish party and elite interests. This is exacerbated by the allocation of state tenders, jobs and promotions in public administration only to comrades, friends and family members and various forms of cronyism and nepotism, maladministration and corruption including jobs for sex.

There is no doubt that unequal social and power relations and inequitable allocation of resources as well as unequal access to amenities and services has an impact on public participation and on the organisational capacity of communities to engage in effective lobbying and advocacy. This also affects the extent to which different communities and sectors of society can effectively make use of tools and platforms such as research, print and electronic media, public hearings, petitions and submissions on policies. The reality is that success of various forms of lobbying, advocacy and influencing public policy still rely heavily on the quality and quantity of financial, technological, material and human recourses and social capital at the disposal of communities.

A critical factor to also consider is that citizen action and public participation is either aided or disenabled and sabotaged by state agency and state capacity. The receptivity or non-receptivity of government institutions to the voice of communities largely determines the form that public discontent will take. In South Africa the incapacity or reluctance of state and public institutions to respond proactively to public concerns and needs or to take decisive action has diminished their faith in government and state institutions.

Public scepticism has been worsened by the bad state of internal democracy in political parties and by the general impression that politicians and parties only use popular support as a leverage and device to attain power and wealth for themselves. Among other things, this has led to the reduction in the numbers of people who attend public gathering and public hearings, greater mistrust of politicians and political institutions, and a decline in voter turn out. For an example, the voter turnout in the national general election in SA decreased from 19.5 million people in 1994 to just over 16 million in 1999, and fewer than 16 million in 2004.

It is this lack of trust of formal structures and processes for placing demands on the state that drives both peaceful and aggressive expressions of protest action and civil disobedience. Therefore, instead of criminalising protest action and civil disobedience, the government should design and implement a coherent and practical programme of transforming the organisational culture and value system of state bureaucracies and public administrations. Currently the Batho Pele initiative is just words on a piece of paper, without a concrete sanctions and incentive framework that enforces adherence and performance. It is therefore not capable of yielding a service culture, transparency or transformed attitudes of public administration staff and government officials. Clearly the solution to these problems is processes and platforms that locate people and communities at the centre of designing, planning, implementing and evaluating policy, governance and development. This would include effectively making people to be at the centre of designing protocols, systems and structures of security and policing in their communities and transforming SAPS into a police force that protects communities rather than one attacks them.


* Mphutlane wa Bofelo is a cultural worker and social critic.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

Readers' Comments

Let your voice be heard. Comment on this article.

↑ back to top

ISSN 1753-6839 Pambazuka News English Edition

ISSN 1753-6847 Pambazuka News en Français

ISSN 1757-6504 Pambazuka News em Português

© 2009 Fahamu -