Summaries Reform of policing in South Africa forms a critical part of the transition from white minority, authoritarian rule to a more democratic system that reflects the aspirations of the majority African communities. The article focuses on two kinds of community policing that have developed since the end of apartheid: official partnerships between the state police and local residents, as exemplified in the Community Policing Forums, and ‘community?initiated policing’ based on local collective organisations (vigilantism), semi?political groupings and private associations. The official police?community partnerships have achieved some success in increasing mutual understanding, ‘de?demonising’ their perceptions of each other and putting respect for human rights on the agenda. Ultimately, however, the pressures of rising crime and the internal upheavals experienced by the police during the transition have forced the police back into their more traditional crime?fighting mode, in which the community is seen simply as an aid to intelligence gathering — the ‘eyes and ears’ of the police. The South African state continues to flirt with private? and community?based vigilantism, motivated by its overriding concern to ‘do something’ about the bad image created internationally by the crime wave. But there are considerable dangers in this strategy if it does not attempt to bring these organisations within a more law?abiding way of operating. These issues are so politically sensitive that they can only be understood within the overall regime context.