South African Police Service

The police service in South African is a national body that operates on a local, provincial and national level. The President, as head of the national executive, must appoint a National Commissioner of Police to control and manage the police service in accordance with national policy and under the direction of the Minister of Police. The National Commissioner of Police is then responsible for appointing a Provincial Commissioner of Police in each province to monitor policing in the province. Municipal Police Services (MPS) are affiliated with the South African Police Service (SAPS) but are responsible for policing traffic and for enforcing by-laws in a specific municipality.

In terms of Section 205 of the Constitution, the objects of the SAPS are to prevent, combat and investigate crime, to maintain public order, to protect and secure the inhabitants of the Republic and their property, and to uphold and enforce the law.

Further, in terms of the South African Police Services Act, the functions of the SAPS are as follows:

  • ensure the safety and security of all persons and property in the national territory;
  • uphold and safeguard the fundamental rights of every person as guaranteed by Chapter 3 of the Constitution;
  • ensure co-operation between the Service and the communities it serves in the combating of crime; and
  • reflect respect for victims of crime and an understanding of their needs.

Oversight Mechanisms

Extensive provision for oversight mechanisms of the police exist in South Africa, on both an internal and external level. In addition to a set of internal mechanisms and procedures within the SAPS to discipline its members, the Constitution provides for the establishment of the Civilian Secretariat of Police and for an independent police complaints body to investigate allegations of misconduct and abuse by its members. Specifically, the Civilian Secretariat of Police (CSP) is mandated to conduct civilian oversight of the police, while the Interdependent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is mandated to investigate complaints involving the police as well as any deaths that occur as a result of police action or while a person is in police custody. While the CSP and IPID are technically independent bodies, the effectiveness of each office has come into question due to inadequate funding and resources.

In addition to the CSP and IPID, various other mechanisms exist to conduct oversight of the police, including the South African Human Rights Commission, which is mandated to investigate allegations of human rights violations, as well as the Public Protector, which is mandated to investigate allegations involving corruption by state agencies. Further, there are a various number of non-governmental organisations working on issues relating to the police, which play an integral role in conducting external oversight of its members.

  1. Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, [No. 108 of 1996], at Section 207.
  2. Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, [No. 108 of 1996], at Section 205.
  3. SAPS Act, at Preamble.
Country Category Year Title URL
South Africa General 2012 South Africa: Constitutional Court Extends Police Accountability Source
South Africa Legislation and Policy 2011 South Africa: Independent Police Investigative Directorate Act Source (PDF)
South Africa Research publications 2008 South Africa: A Watchdog without teeth? The Independent Complaints Directorate Source (PDF)
South Africa Research publications 2007 South Africa: In Service of the Peoples Democracy: an Assessment of the South African Police Service. Source
South Africa Legislation and Policy 1995 South African Police Services Act Source (PDF)