South Africa's Incident Registration Information System (IRIS): Its use and abuse in protest analysis


  • Peter Alexander Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg
  • Carin Runciman Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg
  • Boitumelo Maruping Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg



protest, IRIS, police data, protest event analysis


South Africa’s Incident Registration Information System (IRIS) is a comprehensive, computerised database maintained by the South African Police Service (SAPS). In principle, it records all public order policing activity including all crowd incidents. While IRIS data is, potentially, a unique source for protest event analysis, considerable care is required. We aim to correct misunderstandings about the data advanced by academics and in the media, and expose its misuse by police chiefs and politicians. In particular, the incidents that IRIS reports are not protests, though protests can be found in the raw data. This article is based, in part, on records of 156,230 incidents covering the period 1997-2013.


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Author Biographies

Peter Alexander, Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg

Professor of sociology at the Univeristy of Johannesburg, Director for the Centre for Social Change and holds the DST/NRF South African Research Chair in Social Change.

Carin Runciman, Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg

Senior Researcher, Centre for Social Change

Boitumelo Maruping, Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg

Senior Research Assistant, Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg.


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Research articles