The officers were arrested by their colleagues after they marched through the Durban city centre to highlight their grievances yesterday. The arrests could spark violence that may see police members turn against each other and undermine the fight against crime.
While the number of arrested officers could not be confirmed last night, officers who spoke to The Mercury said about 60 members had been rounded up during the march.
The arrests have caused a stir among other police officers who have threatened to down tools in solidarity.
At least 250 officers gathered at the King Dinuzulu Park in lower Berea before they marched to the Durban City Hall. When the officers arrived at the city hall, they waited for almost an hour to be addressed.
According to the SA Police Allied Workers Union convener, Lee Mchunu, they were due to meet with either the KZN police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, or an official from his office.
Despite calls to Mkhwanazi’s office, no one arrived to receive the union’s memorandum of understanding. A decision was taken to march to the KZN police provincial headquarters in Bram Fischer Road.
Outside the Servamus building, officers were told Mkhwanazi would receive the memorandum. However, according to a source, officers who had gathered were then arrested.
Brigadier Vish Naidoo said a group claiming to be police officers demanded to speak to the KZN police commissioner.
“When he arrived, they followed the commissioner into the boardroom and they had a meeting. We are trying to establish if they were in fact police officers,” he said.
Naidoo said the group was in contravention of the Gatherings Act and other by-laws. He said a few men in the group were armed, which he said was illegal if they were taking part in a protest. Naidoo said they were considering laying charges against some of the group.
Writing on a police WhatsApp group, one of the disgruntled officers said: “We need to respond with force because at the end of the day our members are being arrested. We cannot allow Bheki Cele to divide and undermine us.”
According to Mchunu, the march was about the “unfair promotion” of policemen and women in elite units.
He said those officers who worked at community service stations were often overlooked despite having years of experience and valid training. Officers said they were often made to work under police officers who had recently graduated but were pushed up the ranks, as they worked in specialised units.
Reports of go-slows at stations across the province continued to trickle in last night. Several other members aggrieved by the “unfair promotions” did not take part in the march, but opted for sick leave, leaving police stations in many parts of Durban unstaffed.
Another police officer, who asked not to be named, said: “I have just received a text message that if I don’t report for duty tomorrow morning, I will be suspended.”
Last month, Police Minister Bheki Cele met police officers from around the country to address the issue, and called on management to follow due process during promotions and ensure that deserving officers were promoted.
“In relation to the recruitment of entry-level trainees, we have noted with concern objections regarding the legitimacy of the SAPS recruitment process, from those who have not met the criteria after undergoing a rigorous selection process. The national commissioner and myself are processing this matter,” he said.
DA spokesperson on police, Dianne Kohler Barnard, said the issue should have been dealt with years ago.
“Three successive national police commissioners simply ignored the situation. I have met with captains who have sat in those positions for 20 years, trained juniors and had them promoted over their heads,” she said.
She said the new national police commissioner had tried to undo the damage done by his predecessors.