Human rights and policing in South Africa as a matter of in/exclusion

Authored by: Julia Hornberger

The Routledge International Handbook of Criminology and Human Rights

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138931176
eBook ISBN: 9781315679891
Adobe ISBN: 9781317395553


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It was on 16 August 2015 that I started writing this chapter. This was three years to the day after the Marikana massacre and only a few months after the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the massacre had finally been released. The Marikana massacre was an ill-conceived attempt, gone badly wrong, by the South African Police Service (SAPS) to dissolve an illegal strike of Lonmin Platinum miners demanding higher wages. The attempt to disperse the crowd resulted in 36 people being shot dead by the police. What transpires from the report, even though in a rather muted form, is that what is at stake here is a classic concern about political and civil rights being violated and people not being protected enough from the actions of the state. In the case of Marikana the infringement of rights took two forms: the first is the use of disproportionately lethal force by the police; the second is political interference that pushed the police to act in the interest of the employers (who had the ear of the government) instead of reinforcing the need to resolve the strike through negotiations (Marikana Commission of Inquiry 2015). In many ways this allows one to draw a direct line between current and apartheid times. During apartheid rule the state interest representing the white minority also superseded the respect for black people’s lives. Crowd control measures were also utterly deficient, and crude force was used indiscriminately against groups whose actions were delegitimized as irrational and criminal. It seems therefore that once again and maybe even more than ever a focus on civil and political rights, to curb the powers of the police, should be at the centre of any debate regarding policing and human rights in South Africa. The only difference is that political and civil rights are enshrined now in the country’s Constitution.

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