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Yale University

Publication Date

Fall 2007

Program Name

South Africa: Reconciliation and Development


This study seeks to explore the extent and effectiveness of systems of criminal accountability of the police force in South Africa. More specifically, it explores the pros and cons of existing organizations mandated to deter police from acting criminally and punish them when they do, and the need to strengthen them. The study first takes a look at such organizations as the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD)—which is an independent civilian oversight body—and the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) internal disciplinary system and assesses their strengths and limitations in providing a culture of accountability. The study then focuses on police culture and attitudes toward accountability, and finishes by analyzing the importance of creating effective systems of accountability in a democracy.

Most research was conducted by interviewing researchers, scholars, ICD officials, and police officials. Questions asked ranged from opinions about the ICD to observations of police culture. A disciplinary hearing was also attended, in addition to a union meeting watched, and statements were cross-checked for veracity and legitimacy. Comparisons to apartheid literature were consistently made.

Two major conclusions were reached: the first was that systems of criminal accountability for police officers in South Africa are ineffective and inefficient. The second was that systems of criminal accountability should be strengthened and reformed because an accountable police force is one of the pillars of democracy. There are several debates regarding this, including police culture and opinion and a high crime rate, but the end result is that for a country still recovering from the wounds of apartheid, a just police force accountable for its actions is a necessity.


Public Affairs | Public Policy


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