WAITING FOR FARLAM: Marikana, social inequality and the relative autonomy of the police

  • Bill Dixon Keele University.
Keywords: Marikana, Farlam Commission, South Africa, police, social inequality, police brutality, trade unions, political interference, post-apartheid


Although the Farlam Commission of Inquiry is yet to report, it has been widely assumed in the blogosphere, across large sections of the traditional media, and in some preliminary academic analyses too, that the shootings at Marikana on 16 August 2012 are symptomatic of a police force in thrall to a political elite intimately connected to international capital and increasingly corporatised and unrepresentative trade unions. Against this background, this article looks to the notion of ‘relative autonomy’, considered in a classic discussion of ‘the concept of policing in critical theories of criminal justice’ by Otwin Marenin, to suggest that critics of the SAPS should not be surprised if, in moments of crisis, the police act as the agents of ‘specific domination’ rather than as guarantors of a ‘general order’. It will go on to argue that, even if their worst fears are confirmed by Farlam, their conclusion about the nature of the relationship between the SAPS and a political elite may be too sweeping. Using insights from recent studies of everyday policing, it will suggest that the way in which the police respond to strikes, service delivery protests and other politically charged incidents may tell us surprisingly little about what officers actually do, and why they do it, in the course of their everyday interactions with individual citizens and interest groups less politically well-connected than the main protagonists at Marikana. In conclusion it is argued that, in the absence of significant social change to remedy the structural inequalities bequeathed by apartheid, the SAPS has not been able to transcend its colonial inheritance, leaving the business of police reform begun over 20 years ago unfinished.

Author Biography

Bill Dixon, Keele University.
Criminology and Criminal Justice
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