Policing South Africa's Lockdown:
Making sense of ambiguity amidst certainty?
Despite the progressive vision of South Africa’s policy elites after the end of Apartheid, the South African Police Service (SAPS) faces such severe challenges of efficiency, accountability, and legitimacy that the institution appears under chronic siege. We sought to document the view of insiders on the SAPS’s preparedness and effectiveness at fulfilling its expanded mandate in response to Covid-19. As part of a larger research project, we conducted 27 interviews with police officers and representatives of other government departments across three provinces. These revealed two narratives. The first – and surprisingly dominant – is one of strong coordinating structures, capable leadership and effective command and control under exceptionally difficult circumstances. The second, however, is of an organisation stretched beyond breaking point and placing its members under impossible strains. We conclude that the two narratives are complementary and that their co-existence reflects the opposing pressures faced by the police in this period: the consolidating logic of state securitisation under conditions of crisis and the underlying fragmenting logic of dysfunctional, kleptocratic governance.
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