Simon Howell
Simon Howell

Against PigSpotting

Knowing of both the popularity and following of PigSpotter, in writing this article I feel it necessary to begin with an obligatory disclaimer: this is not an attempt to an indict a single person or project, nor is it a criticism of the good work that PigSpotter has done in ensuring that the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) and the larger South African Police Service (SAPS) are held accountable for corrupt acts or malpractice. I am also not concerned with the legality of the project or his posts. This article is rather a brief questioning of the discursive logic of “pigspotting” — it is a questioning of what I feel is an obvious irony in the calling of the police “pigs”, and some of the consequences thereof.

I have been following PigSpotter for a number of years, and for the most part he presents a fairly balanced criticism of the daily activities of both the SAPD and JMPD, calling to book abuses of power while congratulating those who go beyond the call of duty. In the course of doing so PigSpotter has developed a vast repertoire of names for both the services and individuals — pigs, porkers, hams, porcine, snorters and crackling to name but a few. These metaphors are often received with great amusement by his 185 000 odd followers.

What I find problematic however is what might be called a dissonance between the aim of the project and the real effect. PigSpotter, through his tweets, informs both the public and senior management of the respective services of corruption or malpractice generally perpetuated by officers that are interacting with the public. As far as I understand the intended consequence of this surveillance is to increase compliance, root out corruption and restore a sense of pride to the services, while at the same time giving handy hints to motorists. Yet here, unfortunately, is where I find the practice of the naming of the police as “pigs” paradoxical or contradictory. The contradiction is a function of the power of naming — to call the police “pigs” (which I take most people will find offensive if called it themselves), while at the same time playing a part in increasing the services’ level of service delivery through public shaming or praising serves to belittle them while at the same time (ironically) exalting them.

Taken from another perspective, if I were a police officer that was referred to in the media as a “pig”, “porker” or “ham” what reason would I have to take my job seriously, and what pride would I have? I completely accept that there are many, many corrupt, lazy, and generally incompetent officers in both forces. However, if I were a police officer faced with the very real and violent dangers that I would be, would I stand up against corruption if I knew the general public loathed me? In no other country that I’ve been to have I seen the police so abhorred and feared, and yet so necessary. In the process of calling the police “pigs” then, is the metaphor not serving to help sustain this antagonistic relationship in which corruption and inefficiency thrive?

I understand too that this is perhaps not PigSpotter’s intended aim. However it must be recognised that the practice of calling the police “pigs” further perpetuates a cycle of loathing and fear that in the end only serves to create difference and antagonism. The act of naming is an extremely potent tool in contemporary South Africa, and we are all extremely sensitive to how one is named and defined in public, least not because of our history. Because of this I cannot help but feel that the terming of the police as “pigs” actually does a disservice to PigSpotter’s cause, while also making problematic the projects of those police officers who do take their jobs seriously and who want to make a difference in the communities they serve.

I very much doubt that if a female police officer was termed “pig” out of uniform it would be accepted, and with obviously good reason. Equally, I expect that the fire services, medics and doctors that help road users every day would express outrage at being referred to as “pigs”. As much as we love to loathe them, the police play a vital and extremely important role in our (violent) society. Terming them “pigs” without due reason, or as a blanket term for the police force as a whole undermines public respect, undermines the police’s respect for themselves, and ultimately serves to legitimate the very actions PigSpotter and others are attempting to stamp out.

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    • Momma Cyndi

      You are so very young!
      The police have been known as ‘pigs’ since the days of Bobby Peel. I doubt that our own Pigspotter was around in the 1800s or even in the early 1960s (when the term became popular) so it can’t really be placed on his shoulders

    • Rich Brauer

      Just to be clear, Mr. Howell, you do realize that the term “pig,” as applied to police officers, has been used since the 19th Century, right?

      And, of course, that as long as there have been police, there have been derogatory terms for them? In every culture?

    • http://- Dennis Jackson

      Simon, I agree with you in this very well presented article. However as a retired Provincial traffic officer I can understand the reasoning behind the term. This speaks to how some of our local (JMPD) officers operate. Yes, they do provide a vital and extremely important role, but there is the element that put bribes before effective law enforcement. In addition the proliferation of speed traps and lack of effective visible traffic policing and moving violation enforcement they are sadly lacking in the object they aim to achieve. In previous years,(pre 1994), traffic officers were a totally different breed. What is presently and urgently required is a complete overall of the traffic forces and more emphasis on driver attitude relating to road safety. Little or no enforcement against cloned number plates and counterfeit driver’s licences play a role in the amount of undisciplined motorists. Until these factors are addressed, the term will remain.

    • Andrew Wright

      What a load of rubbish .. “pig” is an apt & honourable term for the police, which has a long & honourable history, especially in its usage during any kind of anti-government protest, where the “pigs” are liable to act with impunity against the protesters.

      Furthermore, my experience of many “pig” friends over the years, is that they are quire capable of laughing at themselves, rather than clinging to a kind of false & self-serving feeling of self-importance. They are. after all, there to serve the public, not their own puffed up pride.

      Could you really find nothing else to write about??

    • http://hotmail kubo

      if i were to say the pig spotter site is motivted by prejudice and less about the need to right the wrongs, then i would be a victim of the “wit blitz). so i wont say i will just write it down.

    • Stephen Browne

      Granted that the above commentators are correct: the term ‘pig’ has been around for a lot longer than Facebook. However, we live in a society where striving for an effective police force has long since ceased to be even remotely funny. This is life and death, whether we like it or not. Our police force is now faced with problems that are becoming exponentially worse – the more violent the criminals become, the more detached from civilian policing our officers become. It is no wonder that a cop from Gugulethu who witnesses multiple, brutal murders every week sometimes comes across badly to the average innocent. I see and experience this every day, cops are not trained to deal with civilians. Either that or they are incapable (understandably so) of maintaining a dual personality, one for people who will kill them given half a chance, and one for taxpayers.

    • Steve Woodhall

      Here in SA we have had an advantage over places like the US and UK where an arm of the normal police force enforces traffic rules. Result = general hatred and contempt of all uniformed police by the public (especially in the UK as I can personally attest to). Here in SA they were always split. I have generally found the ‘proper’ SAPS police to be great guys and girls, before and after 1994. But the traffic cops… tsk tsk. The ‘boytjies in brown’ pre-1994 were just as bad for lurking balefully behind bushes, gathering revenue for their municipalities, as the “Metro Cops’ are now. And now they have expanded powers, and total lack of oversight not to say corrupt municipal bosses, they are a nightmare.

    • Simon Howell

      I do actually remember a time when we called the police ‘pigs’ and their vehicles ‘cheese wagons’ (when they were still that garish yellow and ‘tikki boxes’ that awful orange).

      However, times do change. One only has to look to our own country or the US to realise that the names we call other people can, and indeed should, change. Personally, if I were to do the job the police do and was called a ‘pig’ while doing it, I wouldn’t be pleased at all. Stopping the cycle of antagonism between the public and the police needs to start somewhere, and perhaps the place is something as silly as not calling them ‘pigs.’

      As for not having anything better to write, in the current context I agree. But I also refuse to contribute to the media fracas around Mandela, the only thing that one should be writing on at the moment, because I believe that he should be left in peace for these final few moments of his life. The time will reflection will come, but not now. Either way, it is out of my own interpretation of respect that I have nothing better to write.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Simon Howell

      Good for you! You write what you like – that is what freedom of speech is all about.

      My father was a grease-monkey and my mother was a bean-counter. Various family members have been pigs and one even had to contend with tyre kickers. It is just part and parcel of the non-PC world.

      People are so quick to take offense these days.

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