3 - Police and policing  pp. 45-60

Police and policing

By Martin Chanock

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The police

In popular parlance the police are often referred to as ‘the Law’, an indication of their prominence in the characterisation of a legal system as far as the public are concerned. This is not only because this is the force on the frontier between coercive law and the people, but because policing involves wide discretions in the exercise of which the criminal law and other controlling laws become a real part of state practice. A study of legality and legal culture must therefore attempt to come to grips with the nature of its police. In a coercive society like South Africa in this period it is an appropriate place to start. Policing South Africa has long been an overtly politicised part of government. The prime characteristic was the combination of policing and defence functions. We may start with the War Office's advice to Lord Kitchener, who commanded the British troops in South Africa during the South African War, that the role of the police was ‘continuous and effective occupation’, which can serve as the keynote to this chapter (Grundlingh 1991: 169).

During this period the defence function dominated. Once British control had been established in the Transvaal, it was policed by the newly created South African Constabulary under the command of Colonel Baden-Powell. Its methods and organisation were evolved after study of those of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the French Gendarmes and the North West Mounted Police.