South Africa


The good people of SAPS operate in the shadow of corrupt seniors

The good people of SAPS operate in the shadow of corrupt seniors
Newly trained police officials perform a drill during the South African Police Services pass out parade at SAPS Academy on December 21, 2018 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe)

In the weeks to come, as IPID head Robert McBride prepares to testify at the Zondo Commission, there will be a deluge of disclosures of the deep and endemic rot in the SAPS. Top leadership is implicated, as are many senior officers. These officials cast a long and grim shadow over thousands of ordinary members of the SAPS who risk their lives daily, serving fellow citizens. We should stand with them.

Thousands of police officers in South Africa earn about R14,000 a month. Many work, long, gruelling hours out of under-resourced police stations. You would be hard-pressed in many of these stations to find even 20th-century hardware such as a photocopier or a fax machine. A landline, sure, but often busy.

There are stations so poor they don’t have paper for their printing machines, never mind the toilets.

These are men and women who inhabit a twilight zone between the criminal underworld and what passes for the rest of us as a “normal” life, whatever that may be. Too many of their colleagues have fallen prey to this underworld, the temptation it offers and provides, especially if your superiors and seniors are visibly on the take.

To be an honest cop in South Africa is an act of bravery.

Daily Maverick has interacted with several of these good people in SAPS. Cops who love their work, who are good at it, who have the skills and the nous. Trained professionals who know and understand the law — lawmen and women who do not need to shout, hit, punch or shoot.

People who are truly fearless.

They include detectives and their commanders who have helped apprehend every single serial killer who has ever operated in South Africa, according to research done by South African crime writer, Margie Orford.

Every day, good women and men in the SAPS achieve successes that seldom make headlines, unless these can be used to leverage some or other political point.

Instead, it is the minister and the men with loads of gold bling on their lapels who hog the headlines, who have exposed the SAPS and the lucrative supply chain within the organisation to all manner of predators who know exactly how it all works.

Daily Maverick recently listened to a recording of part of a meeting of detectives in Cape Town Central police station on 1 February, where a colonel, addressing about 25 fellow officers, including lieutenant-colonels and captains down to constables, subjects her colleagues to an angry tirade of abuse and expletives.

The SAPS environment does not offer many opportunities for “self-care”, so tempers wear thin, and the centre does not hold.

In the coming months, as the generals and the colonels crawl out into Zondo’s light and make headlines, think of the ordinary cops out there trying to do their jobs.

They deserve decent leaders and union representatives who fight for their well-being and better working conditions, who value their contribution, not with platitudes, but with pay increases.

The astronomical sums that have been syphoned off the SAPS budget for years would have more than made up for the short-changing of our men and women in blue and, in so doing, society as a whole. DM


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