Taxpayer tab: Police shell out over R2.2 billion in civil claims

National Minister of Police, Bheki Cele revealed that police have paid out more than R2.2 billion in civil claims since 2018. File Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

National Minister of Police, Bheki Cele revealed that police have paid out more than R2.2 billion in civil claims since 2018. File Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

Published May 19, 2024


In the world of law enforcement, police officers encounter a myriad of challenges that test their resolve, judgement, and resilience daily. This, coupled with poor training, lack of resources and staff shortages have been magnified, contributing to a notable rise in civil claims against the police department.

Through an examination of real-world cases, expert insights, and statistical trends, we aim to uncover the underlying factors fuelling this surge in civil claims, shedding light on the delicate balance between maintaining public safety and upholding civil freedom.

Responding to a parliamentary question posed by the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Andrew Whitfield, South African Police Service (SAPS) Minister Bheki Cele said in the last six years, police have forked out more than R2 billion in wrongful arrests and detention.

Graphic: Se-Anne Rall

According to reports, there has been a 52% surge in civil claims in the past five years. In the last three quarters of the 2023/2024 financial year, settlements have amounted to R406 million.

Whitfield said SAPS have coughed up compensation in civil claims in the last financial year adding up to more than a third of its entire budget for forensic science laboratories, almost a third of its budget for Crime Intelligence operations, and nearly a quarter of its budget allocated to border security.

"To put these figures into perspective, since 2018, this amounts to SAPS spending over R1 million every single day," he said.

Graphic: Se-Anne Rall

Whitfield added that the reservist corps are grappling with 93.3% less personnel than a decade ago.

IOL has covered a number of cases in which police were ordered to award complainants following claims of wrongful arrest or detention.

Graphic: Se-Anne Rall

In April, a man who was arrested and detained unlawfully, was awarded R1.5million in damages. Jongile Dan July was arrested near Tarven Makwassie on July 11, 2015 after police accused him of robbery. He was detained for over 200 days in a filthy, overcrowded prison cell.

In May, the South African Police Service (SAPS) was ordered to pay two Pretoria women, Helga Muller and Yolandi Bell, more than R100,000 after they were extorted and unlawfully detained.

In March, SAPS was ordered pay Cynthia Khedama R350,000 after she was wrongfully arrested and held in custody for almost two weeks.

Meanwhile, Durban businessman, Siyabonga Thomas Getsemane, and his 11 security guards are suing SAPS and Cele for R105m, following their alleged illegal arrest.

Graphic: Se-Anne Rall

Speaking to IOL, Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) spokesperson, Richard Mamabolo expressed concern at the staggering amount of claims made against police.

"Most common complaints would emanate from the use of excessive force, poor conduct and attitude, inadequate training and poor judgement. Others are from the mishandling of evidence and cases. We need to ensure that we bridge the gap between police and the community," he said.

Mamabolo said there are fewer cases reported in areas where police work hand-in-hand with communities.

"One of the challenges police face, more especially in rural areas, is the lack of basic equipment and staff shortages. It is important that we work on that. As Popcru, we propose to SAPS that we need to increase professionalism, coupled with compliance with the law in the relevant policies in place. We feel in the long-term, this will reduce the amount of claims," he said.

Tshwane University of Technology Safety and Security Professor, Jacob Mofokeng, explained that another factor for civil claims is attributed to the pressure that police are under to make arrests.

He said with South Africa's high crime prevalence, police have to make quick decisions.

Mofokeng explained that in the process of attempting to be proactive, mistakes happen.

Speaking to SABC, Mofokeng said police are quick to make arrests to satisfy the pressure they work under and perhaps indicate that they are doing their job - and this attracts civil claims.

Willem Els of the Institute for Security Studies added that younger police officers need to be mentored and coached by senior and older members.

Els told Newzroom Afrika that the R2.2bn paid out in civil claims could be used to bolster police services.

He said the money could be spent purchasing resources for police officers and for other areas like SAPS reservists.

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