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Policing in a Diverse and Multicultural Society: The South African Case

NCJ Number
Police & Society Issue: 7 Dated: April 2003 Pages: 199-231
Date Published
April 2003
33 pages
This article examines policing in South Africa following its transition from apartheid to democracy, with a focus on policing a society newly committed to multiculturalism.
South Africa has experienced a major transition from a country marked by apartheid to a country which embraces democracy and multiculturalism. However, such major shifts in a nation’s politics, outlooks, and laws necessarily produce challenges. The article specifically examines the impact of a stated, national multicultural emphasis on policing practices in South Africa. The historical consequences of apartheid have left the negative legacies of high unemployment rates and low skill and educational levels among the countries Black majority. Such consequences affect the way in which contemporary policing is carried out. To make matters more complicated, since 1994 the democratic government has instituted a stated commitment to principles of multiculturalism and diversity in policing and other aspects of public life in South Africa. While such a commitment to multiculturalism seems admirable, the authors found through interviews with police officials that there remains a wide gap between official policy and actual police practice. This is due, in part, to the difficulties of policing a diverse population that is plagued by high crime and disproportionately violent offenses, not to mention widespread poverty and unemployment. Contributing to the problem is a lack of human and material resources for the South African Police Service (SAPS). While the authors were able to identify a range of efforts toward multiculturalism through the police interviews, they also discovered that respondents focused on racial identity as a defining characteristic. As such, the authors conclude that although there is a stated commitment to multiculturalism, diversity issues within SAPS have been marginalized. The authors also assert that at the present time diversity training may need to take a back seat to adequate salaries and skills training for SAPS officers. Tables, notes, references

Date Published: April 1, 2003