Perfect storm hits police in South Africa

 ·5 Dec 2023

There has been a mass exodus of elite Special Task Force members from law enforcement, with many joining private security companies. A criminal law expert says that this is because the SAPS is under-resourced and lacks incentives to retain well-trained members.

At the same time, training has deteriorated and corruption within the service has increased – and crime levels have escalated significantly across the country.

These concerns over members leaving the South African Police Service (SAPS) came from KwaZulu-Natal Police Commissioner Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, who was speaking in Pinetown, where he handed over more than 230 police vehicles to police stations across the province.

“Elite members of our service are resigning (en masse), almost on the daily, and looking to the private security sector for jobs”, he said, adding that he has raised the matter with the leadership at the head office.

However, criminal law expert Ian Allis said this is, unfortunately, not surprising. “The SAPS – including the elite task teams, are under-resourced, underpaid, and overburdened,” he said.

He added that the problem is that crime is escalating in South Africa, but the amount of funding allocated to the police and the quality of training are declining at the same time.

“Under these circumstances, it’s an obvious move for these specially trained members to look for greener pastures, where there is less work for more pay instead of less pay for more work in the police force,” said Allis.

SAPS Special Task Force

He added that while financial gain is the primary driver of SAPS members moving into the private sector, the rise in corruption among police officers is also pushing moral police offers out the door because they can’t trust their fellow officers, which is a dangerous thing in the line of their duties.

Allis noted that a perfect storm has hit the SAPS, as more sophisticated crimes increase in South Africa – such as cash-in-transit heists in Gauteng – the criminals are often better armed than the police, and officers are having to put their lives on the line with little incentives and support from the government.

Allis highlighted that these police officers are not moving to become the average private security guard outside a bank, for example, but they’re forming private elite crime-fighting groups that deal with bodyguarding, high-value target protection, and security consultants.

Private security is a booming industry in South Africa as trust in the SAPS has declined rapidly, he added. Data from 2022 shows that there are approximately 2.2 million registered private security guards in South Africa, with just under 600,000 actively employed in the sector.

This is compared to the SAPS’ 140,000 police officers in the public sector, which is expected to service over 60 million South Africans.

Police minister Bheki Cele has said in front of parliament that the SAPS couldn’t meet the country’s policing demands. He said that the demand for policing has increased beyond the SAPS’ current capabilities – a situation exacerbated by a lack of financial resources afforded to the department.

The deputy police minister Cassel Mathale told the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) at the beginning of the year that South Africa needs to “at least” get back to the 150,000 mark – but this is impossible on the current budget.

Even if the budget was addressed and the country reached this number, Mathale added that it is still not enough to cover the needed policing capacity as the population continues to grow.

Read: State companies are bleeding South Africa dry – and barely keeping record

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