International Journal of Humanities and Social Science

ISSN 2220-8488 (Print), 2221-0989 (Online) 10.30845/ijhss

Enemies of the People: Reflections on the South African Police Service (SAPS) as a Symbol of Repression and Oppression Post-1994
Theodore Petrus

During the apartheid period in South Africa, the police and security forces gained a fearsome reputation as the brutal enforcers of the regime. Their tactics involved extreme violence, torture and other methods used to destroy the enemies of the apartheid government. The role of the police during this period was etched in the annals of South African apartheid history via accounts of significant events such as the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, the Soweto riots of 1976, and the killing of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko in the 1970s. Among black South Africans the police became a symbol of the evil that was the apartheid government, and their tactics time and again gave justification to this perception. However, post-1994, the new dispensation under the leadership of the ANC has attempted to reform the police, now called the South African Police Service (SAPS). Interestingly though, despite efforts at reform, the police are still viewed by many as the symbol of oppression. Various examples post-1994 illustrate the role of the police in their continued demonisation by specifically black South Africans. This article explores the nature of the continuing symbol of the South African Police Service as the enforcer of oppression. The argument raised is that the police continue to be perceived as a symbol of oppression by the South African public both as a result of their history and by virtue of their own actionsin the present.

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