SAPS visible policing budget slashed as Bheki Cele champions tough action against police killers
Police Minister Bheki Cele dedicated his budget vote speech on Thursday to the 24 police officers who were killed between January and March this year. They are among 4,976 people murdered in those three months alone.
Police killings were “barbaric acts” that required a national outcry, said Police Minister Bheki Cele in Parliament on Thursday. “There must be a national call for the perpetrators of this crime to be arrested and never see sunrise nor sunset.”
Cele’s opening remarks in his budget vote echoed sentiments previously expressed, such as in late March 2021, when the report by the panel of experts set up in the wake of the 2015 Marikana commission of inquiry was released. Or during the recent release of the latest crime statistics, when Cele chose to highlight killings of police as “a crisis that is unfolding and has the potential to threaten the country’s peace and stability”.
The crime figures for January to 31 March 2021 revealed that 4,976 people were murdered — 387 more than the same period in 2020. Murder is a key crime indicator — just about all murders come to official attention, and in many ways the number of murders is a pointer to how safe and secure people feel.
Cele has made himself the champion of police, and yet trust in police is low, according to just about any public opinion survey in which police frequently emerge as being perceived as the most corrupt. And brutal — as is reflected in annual reports by SAPS watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), including on deaths in police custody, deaths in police action, torture and assault. The Covid-19 lockdown exacerbated police brutality, leading to protests in June 2020, as Reuters reported.
A crucially important opportunity to shift the ground towards constitutionally compliant policing would have been the SAPS Amendment Bill, the first legislative review of the service since 1994.
It merited just 29 words in Cele’s budget vote speech.
“The South African Police Service Amendment Bill was published for public comments and is now being finalised for submission to Cabinet to obtain approval for introduction thereof in Parliament.”
The draft bill has missed being a significant transformative initiative. It seems more intent on securing ministerial powers regarding, among others, appointments and policing measures, and organising a national structure for policing forums that would be legally entitled to transport, office and other support.
But Parliament’s police committee chairperson, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, said the draft legislation was central to MPs’ role “in defending the rights of our people to live in peace and harmony, and to be free from fear”.
The SAPS Amendment Bill would also have to include the recommendations from the panel of experts that the Marikana Commission of Inquiry said must investigate public order policing after police killed 34 Lonmin miners on 16 August 2012.
It’s a politically interesting mention by Joemat-Pettersson, as the panel’s report remained in limbo for more than two-and-a-half years before its release in late March 2021.
Not included in the draft bill is the panel’s recommendation for a national police board to interview and appoint SAPS candidates on competency and for roles linked to decision-making authority, rather than just rank. Many of the expert panel’s 136 other recommendations for the professionalisation — and demilitarisation — of the SAPS are not in line with the 2012 National Development Plan.
“The professionalisation of the (police) service will also enjoy significant attention during the review process,” said Joemat-Pettersson, adding that the bill is expected in Parliament in August.
“I reiterate — if we can get this right, we will do our people a great service. And we will get this right.”
However, it might well be that Cele and the SAPS will get pushback from legislators.
All this comes as an ever more kragdadige SAPS plays an increasing role in governance through the securocrat NatJoints that monitors the Covid-19 lockdown — it’s Lockdown Day 421 on Friday — and drafting recommendations to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).
The NatJoints, or National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, brings together police, soldiers and spooks in a structure that has no public accountability. NatJoints is not established in law or regulation, much like the NCCC which includes every member of the Cabinet, but is officially described as a committee of the Cabinet.
On Thursday, Cele, on the one hand, threw out numbers to show something is being done, and on the other, cited other reasons such as “environmental design” for the SAPS’s inability to police, which included lack of addresses, narrow paths through shacklands and no streetlights or cameras.
This is, incidentally, a nonsensical excuse. In Accra, Ghana, a dedicated training centre teaches police from countries like Spain, Italy and France to conduct high-density urban policing in exactly those conditions of unfriendly environmental design. Closer to South Africa, the Kenyan police, who patrol Nairobi’s largest slum, Kibera, could help train the SAPS to provide safety and security to the millions of South Africans living in informal settlements.
Back to the numbers. From the R96.3-billion police budget, less money is available for detectives and crime intelligence. Crucially, the biggest cut was made to visible policing, which analysts argue is the backbone of proactive and community-centred policing.
The administrators, however, got more money for a programme that exists to “provide strategic leadership, management and support services”, according to the National Treasury’s Estimates of National Expenditure.
Cele hacked through the numbers. There’s the recruitment of 150 forensic analysts, 127 scientists being promoted to critical posts and the signing of several contracts with private labs. An extra R100-million was secured for gender-based violence (GBV) cases. Also, 1,763 police officers have gone on GBV-related training courses.
The massive DNA backlog at police forensic laboratories proved embarrassing during last week’s parliamentary debate. More than 173,000 samples have been left unprocessed, leading to countless postponements in cases involving survivors of gender-based violence and other crimes.
“We are equally concerned about the negative impact on court processes,” said Cele on Thursday, adding how “poor contract management, corruption and lack of leadership… has put the whole country under siege”.
The police response? Top 30 station turnaround plans; top 30 station plans to bring down murder or gender-based violence, and an improvement plan for the Central Firearms Registry.
That registry is in disarray with stacks of firearm licences and applications lining the corridors, as MPs saw on a recent parliamentary oversight visit. As Joemat-Pettersson on Thursday described it: “We saw a small forest of paper.”
MPs want firearm applications to be digitised, but that may prove problematic — SAPS is still working with the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) to reboot its IT systems for property and exhibit management and firearm permits.
This is while legal wrangles continue with service provider Forensic Data Analysts (FDA) over contracts worth tens of millions of rands. These have been flagged since 2017 by Parliament’s public spending watchdog, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).
Amid all this — never mind the missed performance targets — the internal war in the SAPS is continuing.
Even though many who did the bidding of those involved in State Capture have been shifted out, factional and other battles continue in the corridors of power. In an intricate legal web, SAPS national commissioner Khehla Sitole has acted against several of his senior officers as the rift with Cele deepens.
The fallout between the two men came up in the closing of Thursday’s budget vote debate. “Definitely, we don’t drink coffee together, but we wake up in the morning and work together,” said Cele.
A great deal of work must be done to provide South Africa with a constitutionally compliant police service that has once and for all shed the law and order kragdadigheid and actually provide safety and security. Not just more excuses. DM