Twenty-four years into our democratic dispensation, South African society continues to be faced with challenges related to violent criminal activities, with recent cases of police killings escalating to appalling levels.
These attacks are largely remnants of an increasingly unequal society, with growing unemployment, yet with a growing economy that has demonstrated to benefit a small percentage of the population.
Under such circumstances, there has been a heavy reliance on policing as a way of curbing criminal activities that have marred our country, and this has proven to be a heavy burden not only on police, but on the fight against crime since they are under resourced and limited, with our correctional centres overcrowded and a rate of over 85% of those released reoffending due to the lack of skills and job opportunities to sustain themselves.
During the last week of February 2018, seven police officers lost their lives at the hands of criminal elements in South Africa, with the first six having been directly attacked in the early hours of Wednesday, 21 February at a police station in eNgcobo, Eastern Cape. The latest incident took place in Sunnyside, Pretoria on the 2nd of March where one police officer was killed, at a time when he and his partner were conducting a ‘stop and search’ in the area. These attacks, especially where police were attacked at a police station, have received wide condemnation from all sectors of society, and were termed a national disaster.
Most coincidentally was that two days after this unfortunate incident, a scheduled governmental cabinet reshuffle led to the appointment of a new Minister of Police who had earlier served as the National Police Commissioner.
This change in cabinet has set the eyes of the public on the new minister’s reaction into his approach on dealing with crime in the country. What remains important for us is whether his approach will be of a short-term or long-term nature?
Police killings are not a new topical discussion in the country, and most worrying has been the South African Police Service (SAPS) statistics which estimate that a police officer is murdered every four days in South Africa.
As POPCRU, we have consistently argued that the many changes of leadership that have been effected within the criminal justice cluster have only served to weaken the cluster.
At every effected leadership change, we have seen different approaches towards the direction the SAPS have taken.
Back in 2013, the then Minister of Police Nkosinathi Nhleko introduced what was termed a 10-point plan, which looked into solutions from across all sectors of society on what needs to be done to eradicate attacks and killings of police officers.
In summary, this included the need to adopt a cop awareness campaign, establish a multi-disciplinary committee within the SAPS which would focus on addressing the well-being of police members, offer psychological and human resource support for families and colleagues of deceased police officers, improve the training of police officers, strengthen partnerships with researchers, stakeholders and other role players among others.
Upon his disappointment on the position, Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko was appointed and all these plans fell on the sideway.
After a long struggle with getting the SAPS into action, and at a time where there was clearly no plan implemented by the Nhleko leadership, they finally bowed down to pressure at a time when over 80 police officers had been killed during the 2015/2016 period.
They put in place what is called a Ministerial Transformation Task Team (MTTT) aimed at addressing shortfalls within public order policing as part of the recommendations from the Farlam Commission. It was also supposed to look into the working conditions and salaries of the men and women in blue.
The police ministry had given itself until 2019 to transform the SAPS and address the working conditions and defects within the policing system. This, again, has not materialised due to the changes in leadership. It is an abandoned program.
Former Minister Fikile Mbalula was appointed into the position last year March, and has served the shortest term among the past Police Ministers.
He also came with his own plan called a 6-point plan, focusing on enforcing instructions to have police personnel to treat all victims with respect and dignity and that they should be interviewed by a trained police official in a victim sensitive manner, assist victims in a Victim Friendly Room (VFR) or an alternative room where the statement will be taken in private or in another location providing victim support services, take or refer victims to a healthcare professional for a medical examination to obtain medical evidence, complete a medical report and provide healthcare to the victim and pro-actively provide feedback to victims on the progress of their cases among others.
This six-point plan came out from broader policy objectives which were an instruction to police officers and a commitment to the populace.
What stands out when comparing these ministers is the fact that each one’s strategic objectives heavily relied on the topical issues at their specific times. Lately, there was dialogue around the slow-paced service offered at police stations, and Mbalula’s strategy centred on addressing some of these challenges.
Our view has always been that these different ministers have never touched on the fundamental challenges faced by the SAPS with a holistic view that would seek to address both short-term and long-term challenges faced. Instead, they had selected from the many challenges, to focus on certain categories that, we feel, would be futile when ignoring other important component parts.
Our last POPCRU Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting which took place in November 2017, was apprised with a new South African Police Service (SAPS) Organogram which, the meeting felt, still did not address the SAPS’s key mandate of service delivery.
The meeting felt that the composition of the SAPS structure is still bloated at the top management, while there were limited official on the ground. Further, the bloating created a duplication of roles which sent conflicting instructions and directives to the lower structures.
For these reasons, the CEC resolved that the matter still needs to be taken up for further engagement, and mandated the leadership to develop a proposed structure that should be engaged upon with the National Police Commissioner for consideration.
As POPCRU, our aims are intended to address a duplication of functions, weak command and control, and poor service delivery at police station level. For us, the process of restructuring is informed by the need to improve conditions for the service provided, with its goals being to ensure improved productivity and morale, increased organisational effectiveness and efficiency.
We believe that through these fundamentals, the improvement and functioning of different components can easily complement each other in the best interest of serving our people.
Just as there are many reasons why the SAPS might want to restructure, we agree that there are many benefits of restructuring the SAPS in ensuring its value to the populace is championed, its manpower is efficiently and effectively utilised to improve its response turnout.
It is of critical importance that resources are put in place and are optimally utilised to discharge this imperative and that proper planning is continuously done and executed to deal with levels of crime and their violent nature which have not subsided for quite some time now.
POPCRU has presented observations and inputs on the proposed restructuring based on the current status and shortcomings regarding compliance to legislation, the size of the population visa vis the capacity and strength of the SAPS to deliver on its mandate, levels of crime and the proposed restructuring.
We are of the view that the top-heavy structure must be reviewed because the duplication of functions has dire financial implications in that it takes money that should be utilised to improve conditions of service and provision of tools of trades. It also has a lot of red-tape which delays immediate response and interventions and hamper service delivery.
The structure must be aligned with the National, Provincial and Local constitutional requirement as contained in section 205 subsection 3 of the Constitution of the RSA.
There is an urgent need to build the number of required police stations and capacitate them with requisite human and other resources in line with the determined ratios.
The SAPS needs to strengthen police stations that lack resources and ensure they are led by competitive managers. This will enhance effective policing in line with the prescribed ratios.
Deploying personnel in their specialised fields of work for an example, police officers getting out of the offices and do what they are trained to do which is fighting crime and appointing qualified admin personnel to deal with admin issues.
There is a need to establish, revive and resource Community Policing Forums as a force-multiplier.
Professionalising the service and gaining trust of the citizenry needs to be prioritised, and entry level should be a three-year qualification with clear career streams and specialisation.
The Public Service Act of 1999 allows for the establishment of the Provincial Safety and Security Departments and designates the National Commissioner as the Head of the National Department of Safety and Security. The same Act also designates the Heads of the provincial departments as Accounting Officers of the provincial Departments. Section 36 of the PFMA, 1999 also designates the Heads of Departments as Accounting Officers for the departments. White paper on Safety and Security puts more emphasis on the following Institutional Reform principles:
• The restructuring of the department to provide clear lines of responsibility and accountability and the alignment of policy planning and budgeting;
• Maintaining a clear line of command, control and communication within operational structures to facilitate clear managerial responsibly for implementation at the National, Provincial and Local level of the South African Police Service as motivated by the constitutional and legislative mandates of the National Commissioner.
It is through the restructuring of the SAPS that we can find long-term solutions in curbing the internal challenges that have for years hindered on service delivery, and by addressing these, we will be better placed in ensuring heinous crimes such as police killings are curbed and the establishment of good working relations with our communities are enforced.