Fear of the Police

As South Africa commemorates 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, the public is slowly losing hope in the South African Police Service (SAPS), which is meant to protect them. In the past few months, SAPS has attracted a great deal of undesirable local and international media attention over the alarming rate of occurrences which led to citizens being assaulted, dying and raped by police officers.

April 2013: A defenceless woman was attacked and assaulted by a police officer. His fellow colleagues only held him back after he had already beaten and kicked the victim's head. The officer was only suspended for a mere 60 days after a video of the attack went viral on social networks.

June 2013: Three police officers stripped, assaulted and handcuffed a seven months pregnant woman while in police custody for 11 hours, causing her premature labour which almost killed the baby.

March 2013: Sindiswa Hejena, a 60-year old woman from Silverton, Pretoria, described her brutal encounter with the police to the local newspaper where she explains that, following a church service, she was assaulted and thereafter locked-up for two days in a police cell by a female police officer and her two male colleagues for ‘speaking inappropriately’ with the police.

November 2013: A 17-year old female called the police to assist her following an argument she had with her boyfriend. However, despite the belief that the police will offer some protection and also drive her home, the officers  stopped the vehicle and allegedly raped the teenager.

These are just only a few of endless unjustified cases which depict how police brutality has escalated to an alarming point.

Women face a daily struggle of fighting injustices, inferiority, sexism and inequality, with the constant fear of being hijacked, raped or attacked by males. In addition, women are now also faced with fear towards the police service authorised to protect them, leaving them with absolutely nowhere to run for help. As this alarming rate of misconduct builds up, the main issue to take into account is: who is to blame?

According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), in August 2013, approximately 11 880 criminal cases were opened with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) within the past five years, a mere 2 576 prosecutions and 129 convictions were made. The failure by IPID to act against police misconduct has the potential to undermine the morale and trust that the public has in the SAPS.

ISS Governance, Crime and Justice Division head, Gareth Newham, alerts the public to the statistics of 1 448 serving police officials who have convictions of criminal offences from murder, rape and assault and still not being held accountable or recalled from their positions. He adds that criminals are instead being appointed to catch other criminals. The tendency to overlook crimes committed by police officers perpetuates the very injustices committed against the society and also encourages the culture of abuse towards women.

Negligent police management, poor training, disrespect for law and order, and the blatant disregard for disciplinary procedures are the primary causes behind the police brutality gripping South Africa. The time is now for everyone to work towards ending police brutality.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable," John F. Kennedy (1962).

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