South Africa faces a police crisis

 ·9 Nov 2022

Police minister Bheki Cele says that the South African Police Service (SAPS) can’t meet the country’s policing demands.

Responding in a written parliamentary Q&A this week, Cele said that the demand for policing has increased beyond the SAPS’ current capabilities – a situation that has been exacerbated by a lack of financial resources afforded to the department.

“The SAPS’ current capability…requires substantial additional resources. The continuous prioritisation of available resources is, therefore, a requirement to address the most critical needs of South Africans, which is bound by the available resources,” said Cele.

Cele’s response relates to SAPS’ annual report at the beginning of the year, in which it indicated that allocations will be reduced by R15.8 billion in 2022 and by a further R11.5 billion in 2023 as part of government’s cost-cutting measures after the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in deficits in revenues and economic growth.

Following the report, several bodies raised concerns that these budget constraints would slow down the already weakened service offered by the SAPS and that it would be to the detriment of future policing within the country.

Cele noted in his response that the budget reductions had impacted the SAPS’ ability to replace personnel losses.

Due to ongoing budget constraints, only 15,000 new police recruits can be trained over the next three years, which is not enough to make up for the police officers who will be exiting the service.

“The Police Act workforce has aged significantly, with a reduction of more than 30,000 within the age group 39 years and younger, i.e. from nearly 90,000 in 2011/12 to just more than 59,000 Police Act employees at present still in that age group,” the SAPS said.

Additionally, SAPS’ headcount has also declined from 197,000 five years ago to 172,000 today, with another 10,000 expected retirements and resignations in 2022.

A recent address to the National Council of Provinces by the SAPS highlighted the key issue: excluding admin staff, in 2010, there were approximately 150,000 police officers serving a population of 50 million in South Africa. Today, there are 140,000 officers serving a population of 60 million.

According to the Mail & Guardian, deputy police minister Cassel Mathale told the NCOP that South Africa needs to “at least” get back to the 150,000 mark – but this is impossible on the current budget.

And even if the country reaches that number, it is still not enough to cover the needed policing capacity as the population continues to grow, Mathale said.

Cele indicated earlier this year that his department plans to rapidly ramp up recruitment in the coming year – which would include 12,000 new recruits in total. However, several bodies, including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), said this is insufficient.

The SAPS is losing approximately 6,000 personnel a year due to retirement, resignations and other exits. Even if 10,000 new recruits make it through training, the net gain is only 4,000 bodies.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said earlier in the year that crime in South Africa cannot be eradicated without a strong, capable, professional police force – and Cele’s latest sentiment shows South Africa has none of those things.

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