Are South Africa's cops accountable? Results of Independent Police Investigative Directorate Investigations

  • Policy/Research brief

Are South Africa's cops accountable? Results of Independent Police Investigative Directorate Investigations – Resources


African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum


David Bruce

Publication date

01 Feb 2020

Uploaded by:

Lauren October

Uploaded on

30 Jun 2020





Downloads & Links resources


This report arises from concerns about the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) that have emerged as a result of a series of articles by Viewfinder, an accountability journalism project. The articles, the first of which appeared on 7 October 2019, suggest that IPID investigations are concluded prematurely, that is, before the investigations may reasonably be regarded as complete. Among the allegations are that cases are assigned ‘decision-ready’ status, supposedly indicating that the investigations are complete, or are closed as ‘special closures’ without proper investigations having been conducted. Whistle-blower reports published by Viewfinder suggest that the practice is systemic, widespread across South Africa, and has evolved over many years.

According to IPID, investigations are complete only once ‘a quality investigation’ which involves the collection of ‘all necessary evidence’ has been conducted. IPID consistently reports that cases are all effectively investigated before they are referred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) or are concluded for other reasons.IPID is an independent civilian oversight body tasked with investigating cases involving members of the main official police services in South Africa, including both the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the six municipal police services (MPSs). IPID’s function can be regarded as being twofold in nature:

  • One of the main purposes of IPID is to promote equality before the law by ensuring that criminal cases that appear to implicate police officials are properly investigated. IPID is, therefore, intended to help ensure that victims of crimes committed by police officers also have the potential to have the perpetrators held accountable, and that police officials who violate the law do not enjoy impunity.
  • There are also cases that IPID investigates, such as deaths linked to the use of lethal force by the police (deaths as a result of police action) and deaths in police custody, which are not necessarily linked to allegations of wrongdoing but where there is possible police wrongdoing. Insofar as these cases are not linked to criminal acts, IPID’s role is intended to be that of verifying that the police have acted lawfully in such instances. IPID is thereby intended to help contribute to ensuring that policing in South Africa is undertaken in terms of high standards of conduct and contributes to respect for, and trust in, the police.

The concern expressed in the Viewfinder articles is that many IPID investigations are inadequate. The quality of IPID’s investigations is important for ensuring police accountability for wrongdoing. This is linked to whether victims, or other complainants, receive a consistent quality of service from IPID. In addition, unless there is confidence in IPID, IPID will not perform its second function. The fact that there has been no finding against, or prosecution of, a police officer will not be interpreted as an indication that the police are likely to have acted lawfully, and, in addition, it will not promote confidence in the police.