Now, with police officers stealing the limelight by committing rapes, murders and robberies, we could be firmly on the road to total lawlessness.
This week, we were shocked to learn from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID)’s annual report that complaints against South African Police Service (SAPS) officers in the Free State province alone had gone up to 1 010 cases in the 2012/13 financial year from the 562 recorded in the previous corresponding period – a staggering 80 percent increase!
Of those cases, 730 were of assault by police officers, 23 of deaths in police custody and 31 of deaths as a result of police action.
The IPID also reports 81 complaints of discharge of an official firearm as well as 15 rape cases against police officers in this province.
There are also 14 cases of corruption and 69 other criminal offences recorded against SAPS officers in the Free State.
What worsens the rot is the unacceptably lackadaisical pace at which the police authorities have been dealing with complaints against the men and women in blue.
According to the IPID report, only five disciplinary convictions were received of the 88 recommended to the SAPS for action – one for rape by a police officer and four for assault.
For far too long, South Africa has allowed rogue police officers to offend ordinary citizens and the like again and again without any consequences for the bad cops.
Right now, law enforcement authorities are still battling to explain the deaths of 34 protestors who perished at the hands of trigger-happy police officers during an industrial action at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in the North-West province last year.
Images are still fresh too of police officers bludgeoning and shooting to death from close range community activist Andries Tatane during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg in 2011.
Yet these are not isolated incidents of rogue police officers meting their lawlessness on people they should instead be protecting.
Several other incidents – including the Marcia Mido case earlier this year – have continued to prop up the police’s reputation as the country’s leading torture agency.
We know it’s easy to criticise – from the comfy armchair far away from the drama, tensions and dangers police officers regularly face on the streets and elsewhere – but evidence continues to mount that something is seriously off the rails with the protection we expect from the law enforcement agency.
Of course, the majority of SAPS officers are dedicated police officers.
But as long as little or nothing at all is done to rid the service of bad cops, the public perception that the law enforcement agency gives sanctuary to thugs and societal misfits who masquerade as police officers will be sustained forever.
This is very bad for a country saddled with some of the world’s worst records of crime – including rape and murder.
When people lose trust in the police they take the law into their hands and lawlessness ensues with disastrous consequences, just like what happened in Gauteng’s Khutsong township where six suspected criminals were last week murdered by community vigilantes.
We have not seen any concerted effort by the police leadership to rein in their lawless officers beyond press briefings.
Yet we do not want to believe there is tacit approval or lack of willingness at the top to stamp out the subculture of brutality, crime and lawlessness within the SAPS that continues to damage public confidence and make it more difficult for good officers to do their jobs.