South Africa’s depleted police force is struggling to get to grips with one of the world’s worst crime scourges and spend its full budget allocation, even as it complains it has inadequate funding.
The country has about 182,000 police officers, 18,000 less than it did in 2010, despite the size of the population having jumped by a fifth to 60 million, according to Police Minister Bheki Cele. Plans to recruit 14,000 officers in 2020 and 2021 were upended by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We haven’t trained people for the last two years because of Covid, but also we don’t have a budget for the growth,” Cele said in an interview. “Policing is a labour-intensive activity. It needs more warm bodies.”
On average, more than 60 people are murdered each day in South Africa, and rampant criminality has been cited as a major deterrent to investment. The security forces’ shortcomings were put on stark display in July last year, when it took them a week to quell riots that claimed 354 lives and saw thousands of business being looted.
About R4 billion ($264 million) of the R106.6 billion that the National Treasury allocated for policing in the year through March last year went unspent.
Most of the unused funds were designated for visible policing and maintaining public order and the force’s top brass needed to be held to account for failing to bolster that capacity, but even so “there are still shortcomings with resources that must be corrected,” Cele said. “It would be unfair to say there is no money,” but some policing functions are under-funded, he said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa and Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana have both hinted that the security agencies’ may be allocated additional resources in next month’s budget.
The problems in maintaining law and order extend beyond a lack of money, with the police force heavily politicized, poorly managed and dogged by infighting, according to Caryn Dolley, the author of several books about South Africa’s crime scourge.
“I would describe South Africa’s police service as fractured or broken,” she said. “At a leadership level, there are fragmentations and divisions and I think that is where the crux of the problem is. If we had a strong police leadership that would have a trickle-down effect of more efficient resource usage.”
The police have made headway in tackling kidnapping and gender-based violence, but it can’t be denied that they must do a better job, said Cele, a former police commissioner who retained his post in an August cabinet reshuffle that saw Ramaphosa replace his defence and intelligence ministers.