SAPS challenges pile up and as inner conflict continues communities end up suffering
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by Zelna Jansen
Minister of Police Bheki Cele released the crime statistics on August 20. He stated that between April 1 to June 30, 10 000 rapes were recorded and 5 700 people were murdered.
To this the minister himself said that the contact crimes, sexual offences, aggravated robberies, contact-related and property-related crimes “have recorded never seen before double-digit increases”.
He did however explain that the increase in crimes could be attributed to the skewed and abnormal trends created by lockdown.
Cele further stated that the budget for the South African Police Services (SAPS), had been reduced by R11 billion to R 96 billion. And this prevented the SAPS from employing and training new recruits.
Also, about 600 police officials died due to Covid-19. A 2019 survey by Global Corruption Barometer Africa suggested that the SAPS is seen as the most corrupt institution in the country.
Unfortunately, that smears honest and hardworking police officials with the same brush. However, there is the challenge of police to citizen ratio, which is one policeman to 383 people. More police officers are therefore needed.
The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) supported the minister’s statements and reiterated that issues of under-staffing, the uneven allocation of resources, the shortages of ammunition and training have all been part of the underlying challenges faced by SAPS.
Whether one decides to either disqualify the increase in crimes due to budget cuts or skewed trends in lockdown, the truth is that crime has been steadily increasing over the years.
These horrific and disappointing statistics lead one to ask whether SAPS is winning the fight against crime? Do South Africans feel safe and protected by the police whose mandate is to protect, uphold and enforce the law and maintain public order? What is causing SAPS to fail in its mandate?
Leaderships instability is cited by many as one of the problems in SAPS. The position of national police commissioner has been held by about eight commissioners since 2009.
Then there are about 200 generals and more than 600 brigadiers collectively earning around R1 billion annually.
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has emphasised that the leadership crisis within SAPS is riddled with mistrust and conflict amongst senior police which paralyses the department.
It also, trickles down to police officers who do not receive adequate guidance, recognition, oversight, and accountability.
ISS proposes that to enhance SAPS declining performance substantially, deadwood must be removed, top management must be downsized, and police leadership positions must opened to more transparent and competitive recruitment processes.
This, they add, must be done without political interference. However this suggestion is more like a pie in the sky.
Officials leading in security wield power and any political party in control will be hard-pressed to appoint just any individual.
Other departments also impact SAPS ability to perform through overburdening them with bureaucracy and taking time away from actual police work. Intelligence agencies must do more to provide SAPS with the necessary crime intelligence.
This could have prevented or even curbed the unrest that occurred in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last month.
Also, the long-drawn-out taxi violence in the Western Cape, which has claimed so many lives, injured many and prevented people from going to work, could have been dealt with better.
The minister also highlighted that many police vehicles were either out-of-service, boarded or redundant.
SAPS has many challenges and whilst conflict continues within SAPS top ranks, many communities are left vulnerable. Better off communities will enlist the help of private security companies. However, poorer communities, where crime is rife, will be left desolate. Such communities will have to find ways of dealing with crime.
Community members, ward councillors, businesses and NGOs within the communities must come together to form forums where they can talk to each other, identify what the issues are, work together, form networks, monitor and keep each other abreast of what is happening in their communities.
Police stations will have to try to be more visible and involve in the communities they oversee.
SAPS, through the community policing forums, must find ways of building social capital and trust through linkages and networks with the communities they serve.
The president appoints the national police commissioner and the minister of police. However, Parliament and the provincial legislatures have a role to play in raising the voice of the poor communities and lobby their interest.
Although crime is a national and provincial competence, municipalities still have a role to play. Particularly, as they are closer to the communities that are vulnerable to crime.
SAPS is losing the fight against crime. Citizens, women, children, senior citizens who cannot protect themselves are left vulnerable to criminals. The time is now to be innovative.
We need to collaborate and talk to each other and find ways to solve issues.
Now is the time to leave behind self-interest, greed for money and factional struggles for political power and focus on helping the people who gave you the power to govern our beautiful country.
* Jansen is a lawyer. She is the chief executive of Zelna Jansen Consultancy.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.