Beyond ‘good cop’/‘bad cop’: Everyday police corruption in South Africa

Seminar date: 
08 October 2009
Speaker(s): Dr Darshan Vigneswaran

Dr Darshan Vigneswaran is a senior researcher at the Forced Migration Studies Programme, WITS University, Johannesburg. He has also lectured at the University of Canterbury and was a British Academy Fellow at the International Migration Institute, Oxford in 2008. With a background in International Relations Theory, his research interests include Immigration Control, South Africa under Apartheid, Research Methods, and Police Corruption. He has recently published in Political Geography, Review of International Studies and Journal of Southern African Studies.

Discussant: Ineke van Kessel

South African policing is at a critical juncture. The police have negotiated more than a decade of democratically progressive and constitutionally mandated change but there is now growing uncertainty as to whether the South African Police Services are capable of meeting the challenges of building an open democratic society. On the one hand, the police are responsible for addressing a crime problem of a scale and character that have few international parallels. On the other, instead of spearheading the government's anti-crime strategy, many police officers have become involved in corrupt and criminal activities themselves. These problems are particularly acute in the nation's economic heartland of Johannesburg/Gauteng, which is host to the nation's largest concentration of international migrants. Migrant groups often lack legal travel documents and valid work permits, are separated from police officials by impenetrable cultural divides and, in the case of a small minority, engage in transnational criminal enterprises that local police struggle to comprehend, let alone control. Furthermore, in the process of negotiating the enforcement of immigration laws, international migrants and the police have shaped an informal economy made up of discretion, exchange and extortion. Drawing on surveys of migrants, key-informant interviews and twelve months of embedded observational research with the South African Police Services and the Department of Home Affairs, this seminar will attempt to move beyond traditional explanations of policing practice in South and Southern Africa, identifying the institutional and organizational cultures which help us to understand the boundaries between informality and the law.