One of the featured posts on this blog, MEMOIR OF AN APARTHEID COP, is a brief account (only 3172 words) of some of my personal experiences, while I was employed by the South African Police Force. That was way back in the ‘old days’ when the ‘normal’ duties of the police were hampered by the additional task of also combating terrorism in our cities and on our borders.
In this posting I intend sharing a recent experience I had with my local police station, but before I do that, allow me to briefly point out how the wheel has turned after 16 years of DEMOCraziness in this country.
FROM A FORCE TO A SERVICE – BACK TO A FORCE
After the general elections in April 1994 our Police Force took drastic steps to shrug off its fierce military image, and also its military ranks. One of the arguments was that the public (black people) were afraid of us, and were reluctant to report crime. In the year 1995 the word 'Force' was replaced with the word 'Service'. In the same instance our military sounding ranks changed to more civilian-sounding terms. Sergeants become 'Inspectors', and my rank of Lieutenant-Colonel changed to 'Superintendent'. The ranks of Warrant Officer, Lieutenant, and Major disappeared from the scene.
Many White policemen were not prepared for all these drastic changes. They felt that the New Police Service held no future for them. In a matter of months thousands of experienced White policemen resigned and a few thousand more accepted a severance package from the new government. I managed to hang in there for another 7 years before realizing that staying in the New Service, without any hope of further promotion or advancement in my career, was going to make me old and grey before my time. Applying for a severance package was no easy task. It took me nearly 3 years to convince the top brass at Head Office that I wanted out. My discharge was finally approved for 31 May 2001, after driving the top brass silly with heaps of paperwork, motivating why my sanity depended on getting out ASAP!
I was stationed at the Forensic Science Laboratory in KwaZulu/Natal (Ballistic Unit) at the time. I was also actively involved in the competitive sport of shooting with an R5 Service Rifle. It was sometime in late February 2001 that I decided to write a long letter to all my buddies abroad and to email the same letter to all of them at once. An extract of this letter best describes my mind-set at that point in time.
My old letter to all my buddies – (February 2001):
Please excuse this mass mail method of writing to everybody all at once. It just seems that there are not enough hours in a day. It’s one-o-clock in the morning, and with everybody asleep, I now have some time to do what a man must do.
I cannot help wondering where the hell I’m going. The New South Africa has taken a dive for the worst. Government policies are enforcing affirmative action on a grand scale now, and our equity managers have succeeded in negotiating a 70 / 30 percent ratio of representavity (i.e. 30% white and 70% non-white) in all departments of the SA Police.
I cannot see the sense in promoting young inexperienced persons into positions they cannot manage. It’s still okay if the chap shows an interest to acquire the skills, but the buggers who have this no-care cocky attitude really piss me off! It’s quite upsetting to see so many experienced colleagues taking their discharge due to pure frustration, and mainly because there is no prospect for promotions in the many senior positions that have now suddenly become available.
There is a definite move to drain the SA Police from all White Managers as quickly as possible. I am counting the months as the date for my package-deal draws nearer. I only hope to remain sane during the next few months. At present I am commanding two posts. Acting commander Ballistic Unit and acting commander Forensic Science Lab, KwaZulu-Natal. Believe me when I say that playing ‘Actor’ in two posts is no fun! The KwaZulu-Natal Lab has expanded enormously with two new sections; a drug analysis unit, and various explosive units (bomb squads) scattered across the province. The guy in charge has been on sick leave since October 2000, and is in the process of being declared medically unfit, but he’s still trying to run the lab from his sickbed, which I find most frustrating, as the younger officers tend to follow orders from more senior personnel, irrespective of whether they are ON DUTY, or not!
The SA Service Shooting Championships takes place in Bloemfontein from 23 to 28 April. The prescribed service rifle is the 5,56mm R5, and not the old (more accurate) 7,62mm R1 rifle. The R5 has a much shorter barrel and smaller lighter bullet, which negatively affects accuracy over long distances. This sport has the advantage of adding a little more to my CV, but I think it’s the company of guys who share the same interests (beers and barbecues) that make these outings all worthwhile.
The sport has helped me testify in our courts on certain matters of Forensic Ballistics with more confidence. “Yes my LORD! The human eye does play a major role in accuracy. There are inconspicuous factors such as mirages, wind, position of the sun, too much sugar in the blood stream, etc… that can cause the shooter to place the bullet in a target other than intended.”
Judge: “Have you experienced this yourself?” --- “Oh yes my LORD! – Most definitely!”
The above letter has been shortened for purposes of this post.
Back to the present:
Today, our modern ‘transformed’ police service has changed back to a Police FORCE, and the old military ranks have been reinstated. See this short news report on www.iol.co.za.
They have finally realized that playing Mr Nice Guy in a multi-ethnic, multi-criminal society, only leads to a lack of respect for law and order. The featured book I’ve chosen for this post (see below) describes this aspect in vivid detail. The book, published in September 2009, also highlights the complexities involved with policing a multicultural society, -- stuff we already knew back in the days of apartheid.
Way back in the 1970’s already, our Police Force applied the principle of representavity with proficiency and fairness to all races. The police was the biggest multiethnic organisation in the country. If you walked into any large charge-office back in those days you would find a diverse mixture of police personnel from various ethnic groups ready to assist you. The black people were even privileged to have their own separate section where they could be served by their own kind, in their own language, but the main stream media (MSM) used this to launch a negative image of racial segregation into the minds of dumb (uninformed) people worldwide.
This professionalism does not exist today in our modern democratic police service. When you walk into any charge-office in the main centres of the country you will only find black cops to assist you. Because of the language, the cultural differences and plain lack of dedication for their job, everything works slower than normal. You normally have to wait some time before being served. There is seldom any privacy, and very often you’ll find yourself reporting a minor theft or certifying documents as true originals, while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with another complainant who is reporting a violent assault or rape. Professionalism in our Police Force flew out the window when the Marxist ANC Government took charge of things, but yet they keep spending and spending millions of rands to improve things!
In a certain sense the change from ‘Service’ to ‘Force’ describes the present function of our police most accurately , because there is NO SERVICE! During the past few months ‘Murphy’s Law’ has compelled me, on a number of occasions, to visit a few local police stations in the Pretoria area. I can honestly declare that there has not been one single occasion where I can say that the service coming from behind the counter had been good, or even close to reasonably fair! It’s pathetic I tell you, when there are about 4 – 5 very young (nat agter die ore) Colonels standing behind the counter, and not one can speak proper English. There’s also a notable reluctance to do any form of paperwork, or to write out a statement. AND, -- DON’T EVER put down your Parker pen on the counter, because it will vanish like magic, in a flash – right before your very eyes! Trying to open a theft case when this happens, simply does not work, -- believe me, I’ve tried!
Yesterday I was compelled to visit a local police station again to report one of our drug-addicted kids who went missing about two weeks ago.
This is part of the ADOPT-A-DRUG-ADDICT project I’m occasionally involved with. In most cases these kids hit the streets to beg for money to support their addiction. The heroin addicts are impossible to control, and usually vanish for a week or two, but remain in contact with us, or a close relative. The child I was dealing with had not contacted anyone for two weeks, and being a potential overdose-risk, I decided that it was best to first get the official paperwork sorted, before looking for him in the local hospitals, --- or trying to find his corpse in the local mortuaries. There was also the possibility that the police themselves could have picked up the kid in their efforts to clean up our streets before the Soccer World Cup.
I was served by two black policeman, both of whom had no idea where to locate the “Missing / Unidentified Persons Form” that needed to be completed. When the 12-page form (SAPD 55(a)) was finally found, they refused to fill in the form because I did not have a photograph of the kid on me at the time. Trying to explain to these idiots that I had a ‘digital’ picture on my computer at home, and that I would e-mail the photo later, proved to be a frustrating and pointless exercise. It was blatantly obvious that these people were just plain lazy, and that they also had no idea how modern computer technology worked, --- AND THIS IS THE YEAR 2010!
I left taking the form home with intentions of doing the whole admin thing, plus a printed photo all in my own time, and at my own expense! Luckily the missing kid made contact with us that same evening. He was alive and well, -- thank goodness!
I intend posting a few interesting stories on this blog about my experiences in the ‘old’ Police Force. I cannot say when, but it will be soon, -- so stay tuned!
Thin Blue: The Unwritten Rules of South African Policing
Author: Jonny Steinberg
Published: September 2009
In this provocative new book, Steinberg argues that policing in crowded urban space is like theatre. Only here, the audience writes the script, and if the police don't perform the right lines, the spectators throw them off the stage. Several months before they exploded into xenophobic violence, Jonny Steinberg travelled the streets of Alexandra, Reiger Park and other Johannesburg townships with police patrols. His mission was to discover the unwritten rules of engagement emerging between South Africa's citizens and its new police force.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jonny Steinberg (born 22 March 1970) is a South African writer, scholar, and award-winning journalist now living in New York. In the mid-1990s he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and studied at Oxford University's Balliol college, from which he graduated with a doctorate in political theory. He returned to South Africa in 1998 and worked for the national daily newspaper Business Day, writing on the Constitutional Court and the police. He left Business Day to write the book Midlands, which explores racial conflict in the post-apartheid countryside through an account of an unsolved murder.
In 2003, Midlands received South Africa's most prestigious literary prize, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for non-fiction. In the same year Midlands also received the National Booksellers' Choice award. Two years later Steinberg repeated this feat when his second book, The Number, a social history of crime and punishment in Cape Town written in the form of a biography of a prison gangster. Source: Wikipedia
The latest book is available at Amazon.com.
(It is regrettable that Kalahari.net does not stock Jonny Steinberg’s latest book)