Behind the thin blue line

FILE PICTURE: South African policemen. Picture'; AFP

The cops aren’t popular out there. This year alone, at least 10 people are alleged to have died during police action at violent service delivery protests. The SAPS heavily criticised after each death.

By some, the police are seen as jack-booted thugs who use bullets indiscriminately on protesters armed with rocks.

Government lackeys.


Joe (Not his real name) is a highly trained warrant officer in the Public Order Policing (POP) division of the South African Police Service. He’s heard all these insults during his 20 years of service to our country.

In Joe’s experience, the division of police mandated to control public disorder is under-resourced. And members are often ordered to carry out other tasks, such as guarding judges’ homes or Luthuli House.

“Two highly trained officers sit there every day and night. For what? It only becomes a National Key Point when the president is there.”

Under-resourcing leads to other problems, too, he says. It’s a stressful life and the problems begin long before he and his colleagues even leave the base.

“Some of my section was at Marikana, they are completely stressed. The guys with the R5s, the Tactical Response Team, the National Intervention Unit – they weren’t supposed to be there,” he says angrily.

“That was a POP situation. All our big bosses, all our generals, everybody wanted to have a say. There is no control, no specific way that things are done because everybody is the boss.

“You can understand what the community is angry about, like in Bekkersdal. I mean those people have been waiting for water and sanitation and houses that still aren’t there.

“What can you do? 1 000 to 2 000 protesters with pangas, with sticks, bottles, what do you do? Put your helmet on and go and chase them away? You’re going to get hurt.”

The stress of facing an angry crowd is bad enough, he says, but it’s far worse when you don’t have the right equipment. And training as required under the new Dangerous Weapons Act was not forthcoming. “In the end we had to do it on the weekend.”

So why does he stay in the job?

“I’m a policeman. I wanted to be one since I was a small boy,” he says.

“Just give us the tools to do the job.”


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