Police Academy, South Africa-style

Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa officially opened the new South African Police Service (SAPS) Academy on 30 January 2014 in Paarl in the Western Cape. 

The first intake of 120 students will study for a Bachelor of Policing degree in an attempt to re-skill and professionalise the SAPS.  It is hoped that the academy will inculcate them with the values enshrined in the constitution and thereby produce a new breed of police professionals. They will be equipped with the right theoretical and practical training to enable them to serve their country and its citizens diligently, efficiently and effectively. Or, at least, that is the intention.

This initiative comes in the wake of widespread criticism and distrust of the SAPS; the bloody massacre at Marikana and recent violent responses to public service delivery protests that resulted in civilian fatalities. In addition there has been a rise in vigilantism as local residents mete out their own justice to suspected criminals. This week two such suspects were burned alive.  Meanwhile the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has called for a parliamentary inquiry into police brutality at recent public protests arguing that their actions contravene the spirit of the constitution.

But can a degree in policing turn things around for the SAPS?  I don’t think so.  There’s nothing wrong with learning good policing techniques but learning about values isn’t the same as holding them dear. There is a disjuncture between the idealism enshrined in the constitution and the political realism of the government.  Whenever something like Marikana happens, everyone holds up the constitution like a cross to ward off the evil one – currently personified by President Jacob Zuma.

Far from being venerated like the late Nelson Mandela, Zuma is accused by critics of evading a rape trial and of corruption in relation to the construction of his personal residence. But its not just about Zuma. The ANC as a social force, far from providing moral leadership, has long been limited in its impact on wider society by its modest aims and its aloofness from the majority of South Africa’s citizens. All of which leaves the SACP in search of the legitimacy and moral authority that just can’t be taught.

Written by Sharmini Brookes, based in Johannesberg, for the Social Policy Forum at Institute of Ideas.

Picture by: ER24 EMS (Pty) Ltd.