In this particular discussion, the speakers were Professor Beate Neuss, Deputy Chairperson of KAS, as well as the respondent, Dr Johann Burger, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). The topic was: “Justice, Peace, Safety and Security: International and South African Perspectives”.

Professor Neuss discussed global challenges and risks, explaining that with globalisation, even distantly located conflicts can impact other nations, and that with interdependence amongst various nations, the escalation of problems and crises had the potential to destabilise other countries. Having given the overview of her address, she then identified specific security threats. The rise of new powers with historical imperial dominance is today a threat. She cited the resource-driven China’s territorial dispute in the South China Sea as one such example. The dispute has implications for countries in Western Europe, as well as the United States of America, whose trade routes include the South China Sea. 

Professor Neuss went on to discuss hybrid warfare as the new face of war, in which there are both state and non-state actors. She identified economic warfare, cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, as well as cyber terrorism as being the new face of war. She added that international law needed to adjust, to recognise these threats as hybrid warfare. She further identified weapons in, as aggression launched from combat from civil facilities, fanaticism, mass murder, rape and mutilation as being part of the new faces of war. Again she emphasised that international law has not evolved sufficiently to allow legitimate responses to these new kinds of challenges.

She went on to identify fast changing global demographics as a possible cause of insecurity. Specifically, she identified the median age of the African continent as being between 14 – 20 years, with Africa expected to have 21.8% of the world’s population in 2015, from just 14.9% in 2010. This, given the low employment rates and lack of access to other opportunities for young people, will have implications for security in many African nations. Another issue mentioned was refugees and migration, citing United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee’s 2013 report that there are 50.2 million refuges worldwide, with 33.6 million of this figure being internally displaced people. This creates the potential for destabilisation of entire states and regions. There is also an ever-increasing demand for resources, which if not met, could have implications for the stability of many states, For example, developing countries will, by 2030, experience a 64% energy use demand, which many developing states may be unable to meet.

Additionally virulent diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which led to a 70% drop in tourism in Asia, as well as Ebola, which has resulted in lost Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of between 2%-11%, are threats to state security.

Her concluding remarks were that there need to be interdependence amongst states at the onset, in deciding how to respond to the threats identified above. There ought to be comprehensive, sustainable approaches, which underlie the concept of state interdependency.

Dr Johan Burger then narrowed down the discussion to a South African perspective, identifying public order incidents and serious crime as being the dual threats to South Africa. He began by referring to the statistics: on average there are 32 peaceful incidents involving crowd-related assemblies, gatherings and meetings; whereas there are on average five incidents of unrest per day involving violence. These figures of incidents of unrest represent a 96% increase since 2010. While differing on the actual figures, both the South African Police Service (SAPS) Annual Report of 2013/2014, and the University of Johannesburg’s Social Change Research Unit (UJ) show that there is a steady increase in the number of service delivery and community protests. These protests are largely driven by the anger and frustration felt by young unemployed people.

The reasons for community protests were varied. According to UJ’s research, the top five grievances were about service delivery in general, housing, water and sanitation, political representation, and electricity. Corruption, municipal administration, roads, unemployment, demarcation, land, health and crime also featured.

The SAPS is tasked with quelling these service delivery and community protests and yet the number of public order police units is in decline. In 1995, there were 31 public order police units, with 11 000 members. Currently their members number just 4 721. The decision to reduce the number of personnel in these units is attributed to a shift in police focus after apartheid, from crowd management to crime combating and prevention. The end result is a police force ill-equipped to adequately police the right of South Africans to protest.

In the midst of the threat of public violence is South Africa’s high crime rate. Although contact crimes such as murder, attempted murder and aggravated robbery are on the decline compared to recent years, their incidence still remains unacceptably high. For example, the international average for murder is 6.2 per 100 000 people and yet South Africa is at 31, making this the world’s highest figure outside of a war zone. Incidents of burglaries and armed robberies of shopping centres are on an astronomical rise, with equally huge financial losses reported. Financial loss resulting from armed robberies is said to be R29 425 481 in the 2013/2014 period, while losses resulting from burglaries are said to be R11 724 617 in the same time.

While the SAPS conducts arrests for various offences, this is not matched by case finalisations by the National Prosecuting Authorities. Current statistics show a 54% increase in arrests by the SAPS, but a 20% decline in NPA case finalisations. Reasons for this discrepancy include poorly conducted detective work caused by poor training and a lack of adequate resources.

Citing statistics from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), which is tasked with the investigation of criminality within the police service, police use of lethal and excessive force, including torture, resulted in numerous deaths and injuries. According to the IPID 2012/2013 annual report, 706 persons died in police custody or due to police action during the 12-month period. Of that number, only nine SAPS members were charged and found guilty. IPID received 146 complaints of rape in that period. Of the 146 cases, 55 were against on-duty SAPS members, and the remaining 91 were against off-duty officers.

As such, the dual threat of crime and public violence, coupled with a poorly-trained, under resourced police service, and criminality within the SAPS creates serious challenges for South Africa.

Dr Burger gave wide-ranging recommendations on how best to deal with the security challenges identified above. These include the introduction of a Code of Conduct in the disciplinary regulations and performance appraisal system, and to conduct periodic checks on the level of understanding and practice of the Code. Further there should a code of professional and ethical police practice, and training and testing of members on their understanding of the code. A breach of this code should lead to suspension or dismissal. There should be the establishment of a National Policing Board, with multi-sectorial and multi-disciplinary expertise to establish objective standards for the recruitment, selection appointment and promotion of all officers. There should also be a competency assessment of all officers and they should be rated in accordance with such competency. Ideally, in the next five years, a two-stream system should be developed and implemented in order to create a high calibre of officers and recruits. This would also mean that non-commissioned officer and the officer streams would be trained as professionals. There should be objective testing based on set standards or criteria, and recruitment to officer’s stream should be followed by further training and testing.

The National Commissioner and Deputies should be appointed by the President, only on recommendations by a selection panel that would select and interview candidates against objective criteria. More focus should be placed on training for professionalism (detective, specialised units, operation planning, community policing, etc). The police service must demilitarised and finally the organisational culture of and subcultures of the police should be reviewed to assess the effects of militarisation, demilitarisation, remilitarisation, and the serial crisis of top management.

The Constitution at section 12 provides that everyone has the right to freedom and security of the person, as well as the right to bodily and psychological integrity. South Africa is underpinned by constitutional values, as well as the Rule of Law. The failure of the criminal justice system erodes public confidence in the Rule of Law. While there is no one grand fix-all solution to the threats identified by both Dr Neuss and Dr Burger, the fact remains that there is a need for coherent programmes to both prevent and respond to crime and violence. 

By Phephelaphi Dube: Legal Officer, Centre for Constitutional Rights