Ian Cameron: ANC opens unstaffed SAPS station in newest electioneering tactic

The ANC’s election campaign hit a new low with the opening of the Makhaza SAPS station right before the crime statistics release, now conveniently postponed. Despite showcasing new stations, the SAPS faces severe understaffing, especially in detectives, and slashed training budgets, worsening the crime situation and undermining public safety.

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By Ian Cameron

Yesterday, the ANC election campaign was brought down to a new low by the Police Minister and so too the National Commissioner.  The Makhaza South African Police Service (SAPS) station was opened in the Western Cape the day before the quarterly crime statistics were meant to be released (today) – which, conveniently for the Minister and his ilk, that is no longer happening, because of course it would do even more harm to the flailing ANC’s prospects just before our most crucial election since 1994.

Firstly, I would like to make it categorically clear that contrary to the brand-new plaque pasted up at the freshly minted Makhaza station, Minister Bheki Cele is not a general. 

Now you may ask, why would I say that the Minister’s recent antics in the province is nothing but a cheap electioneering tactic. 

Allow me to explain.

The Western Cape, as every other province in South Africa, not only has a massive shortage of SAPS officers but also has one of the highest vacancy rates of SAPS detectives in the country, last reported at 24% in June 2023.  For context, the Northern Cape’s detective vacancy rate was 25,9%; in KwaZulu-Natal it was 23,3%; and in the North West, a staggering 32,9%.  By the way, I should add that detectives should ideally never have more than 30 to 40 dockets on their desk at any one time, but the current average per detective is between 200 and 300. 

In the last financial year, SAPS lost 5 733 members, owing overwhelmingly to retirements (2,139) and resignations (1,913), mostly in favour of better employment opportunities (which is a trend that follows throughout the years).  These losses are even more damaging when you consider the skills drain they represent.  Of the 5 733 SAPS members lost last year, 4 448 (or 77,5%) of them were considered either “highly skilled” or from senior management.  

In 2021/2022, the SAPS lost 5 574 members, 4 295 of them (or 77,1%) being in that same skills bracket.  In 2020/2021, it was 4 885 of the 6 129 losses (or 79,7%).

From the outset, it is clear that the SAPS is experiencing a deadly “brain drain”, haemorrhaging critical skills and expertise needed to maintain law and order in an ever-worsening crime safety environment.  The SAPS’ operational staff complement is looking dire – and that is putting it lightly.

In 2019, there were 150 639 operational SAPS employees. A year-on-year reduction followed, to 147,004 in 2020, then to 143,610 in 2021, and finally to 140,048 in 2022.  In 2023, there was a slight increase, it must be said, but it failed to bring the complement back to even 2019 levels, despite an exponential increase in South Africa’s total population, from 58,775,022 to 61,001,374 during the same period.  

To add insult to injury, the SAPS’ investment in employee training and development is abysmal.  

During the 2022/2023 financial year, the SAPS’ total training and development budget for each of its programmes was slashed as follows:

Programme 1 (Administration): From R19,1 million to R5,5 million

Programme 2 (Visible Policing): From R1,9 million to R900,000

Programme 3 (Detective Services): From R29,8 million to R600,000

Programme 4 (Crime Intelligence): No change, from R0 to R0

Programme 5 (Protection and Security Services): From R98,000 to R45,000

This means that in that financial year, instead of spending the originally budgeted R50,9 million on crucial training and development initiatives to professionalise and upskill SAPS members, the SAPS spent R6,1 million.

In fact, it appears that this about-turn occurs each and every year.

In 2021/2022, the SAPS budgeted R49,6 million for training and development, ended up slashing a jaw-dropping R41,4 million, and eventually spent R8,3 million.

In 2020/2021, the budget was R48,9 million, later slashed by R21,2 million, and despite leaving a decent R27,7 million over, the SAPS spent a paltry R2,4 million.

So, either we are training cops through the South African Post Office (and I mean this very much tongue in cheek, as we all know the current state of that SOE), or the quality of these new recruits that the Minister keeps flaunting, is highly questionable. 

What does all of this have to do with Makhaza, you may ask? 

Well, one must ask the National Commissioner and the Minister why they have suddenly expressed such a keen interest in deploying uniformed members there before the election.  More to the point, without sufficient detectives on hand to investigate crimes or boots on the ground to patrol our streets, how do they expect to keep the residents of Makhaza safe?  Is this all just a part of the larger ANC election campaign?  Is the Minister-in-the-Hat just angling for votes?  

And while Khayelitsha has a spectacular group of committed reservists, geared to add real, concrete value to community safety, they get ignored by the Minister time and again.  Perhaps Bheki Cele just doesn’t think that supporting dedicated and eager local community members would make for the type of splashy publicity stunt we have come to know him for.

We can then ask where they intend to send forensic evidence gathered from crime scenes – provided that they were able to find a detective to investigate the case in the first place.  The forensic laboratories are swamped, and without results or detectives to follow them up, it means an incomplete docket that will get shelved with the thousands more that go unsolved.  And all this while the actual anti-gang unit, for example, hasn’t received new gear or additional training in years.

Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing new stations, but police stations without cops to staff them are just empty buildings, giving false hope to millions in desperate need.

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