South Africa


‘A catastrophe’ – Minister Bheki Cele describes shocking work conditions for SA police

‘A catastrophe’ – Minister Bheki Cele describes shocking work conditions for SA police
From left: Police Comissioner General Fannie Masemola at the send-off parade for rescue teams and their commanders at Virginia Airport in Durban on 13 May 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | Police Minister Bheki Cele at the send-off parade at Virginia Airport. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille in her office in Pretoria on 30 May 2019. (Photo: Alon Skuy)

Parliament has heard that police are trying to perform their duties in appalling conditions. Some of the premises from which they work have had the electricity cut off. Others are in an advanced state of neglect.

An escalating crisis in the form of buildings that are unfit to work in, is threatening the already shaky stability of the South African Police Service (SAPS), with some officers even forced to work from home.

The SAPS has been divided by infighting and criminality among cops, and now faces more literal cracks which no one in the government seems to be trying to paper over.

On Wednesday, 18 May, the sorry situation was laid bare in a portfolio committee on police meeting in Parliament.

Certain issues relating to SAPS workspaces have previously been raised, but the broader picture that emerged this week was especially disturbing.

The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure is the custodian of several properties used by the SAPS, and department representatives were at Wednesday’s meeting.

While plans were made to urgently address the problems, some at the meeting pointed out that years had gone by with little more than lip service paid to situations that continued to deteriorate.

Both Police Minister Bheki Cele and National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola, who is in his second month as the country’s top cop, seemed at their wits’ end.

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Police ministry top brass have no office

Cele said that on 17 May 2022 he had a “big meeting” with a team that was dealing with issues in the Western Cape.

This meeting was held in his home and, he said, the drinks served to the attendees came out of his personal budget.

“There is an old office, Wachthuis, which I’m told has no electricity, which has been shut down on notice and all that… which has been condemned and all,” Cele said.

“Police have no place to work – from the very highest office of the police.”

The Wachthuis building, he said, had been condemned in 2010.

In February 2022, the SAPS issued a statement about the building – leased by Public Works – describing it as the “administrative headquarters” of the police and saying “services are continuing as normal” following reports that the City of Tshwane had disconnected utility services over unpaid bills.

Cele’s words this week, however, suggest that the situation is not as stable as that statement claimed.

Rotting and flooding

Cele also brought up the matter of the Umlazi police station, which he said was “rotting”, and a laboratory in Amanzimtoti that had flooded four times, affecting equipment and operations.

He said that a decade ago, the Public Works Department was meant to have built another laboratory in Pinetown, but this never went ahead. It was then meant to have built one in Durban central, but this was also yet to happen.

Cele said there were problems with laboratory backlogs, for which the SAPS was criticised, but that certain issues were out of its hands.

“It’s a frustration… you live with that… you’re carrying sins that are not yours… Can’t somebody do anything for us?” he asked.

Masemola too gave some examples of what police officers were up against.

Cops working from a construction site

A police station in Bloemfontein had been under construction for more than five years.

“Police members are working in a construction site where there is dust… the renovation is just not finished,” he said.

Masemola also said that in the Free State, members of the police’s protection and services division had been without an office for more than two years.

He warned that when an audit was done, “we’re definitely going to be in trouble”, because members were working from home.

The Koedoe Building in Pretoria, which houses the old SAPS head office. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Police stations owned by municipalities posed another problem, Masemola said, because the SAPS could not simply proceed with maintaining these, and “day-to-day they’re going derelict”.

Firearm epicentre packed in boxes

Another issue raised at this week’s meeting was the Central Firearms Register saga.

About three months ago, Daily Maverick reported on how the registerwhich, according to the police’s 2020/21 annual report, was meant to “ensure effective control over small arms and light weapons” in and across South Africa’s border – was largely based at the Veritas building in Tshwane.

The building was declared unfit for human occupation several years ago.

The Central Firearms Register was meant to have relocated to Telkom Towers in Pretoria’s CBD. However, as Daily Maverick has reported, there were problems in the building, including water leaks in the basement. 

Cele said this week that “billions” had been spent on the Telkom Towers move, yet “we still don’t have a place to work”.

Portfolio committee on police chairperson Tina Joemat-Pettersson said the Central Firearms Register was “now packed in boxes because they do not have accommodation”.

A catastrophic mess

Describing the overall situation regarding SAPS premises, she said: “It is more than a mess – it’s a catastrophe, it’s a disaster, and we owe it to South Africans to sort this out as soon as possible. We cannot fight crime if we have no bases from which to fight crime.”

Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille also had a dire prognosis: “I don’t know how to describe it except to say that this is a mess.”

She said she would get external auditors of the department to appoint an independent service provider to assess all the documents that were placed before the meeting in Parliament.

“I’m really shocked by what I’m hearing and seeing today, and the extent of the problem,” said De Lille.

Construction mafias and cash crunches

A police presentation to the meeting in Parliament this week showed that it had an infrastructure development plan, but that there were challenges in rolling it out.

These included poorly performing contractors, sometimes involving yearslong procedures between the SAPS and contractors when it came to disputes.

There were also “interference and work stoppages by small business forums and construction mafias”.

The Department of Public Works’ presentation said it experienced challenges including underperforming contractors, contractors facing cash flow problems, as well as “community unrest, strikes and lockouts”. DM


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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Just go have a look at the police college in Pretoria,or the police base at faure(old sacc base)They were in great condition.27 years later, not so.Go look at the backlogs at Maitland and Stellenbosch mechanical yards, where you wait a month to have breakpads put on , etc.I could go on for weeks.Cele and De Lille don’t know what is going on because they are out of touch with reality.There is never inspections and or visits .Only when their is political advantage for them.27 Years of mismanagement .Understaffed, undertrained, Cadre deployment .In the Zuma years it really snowballed.It is tragic,and all they can say is”i didn’t know”

    • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

      And don’t forget “I am shocked”. The phrase that gets used by all cadres and deployees from top (cr) to bottom (anyone in government that has been caught doing nothing).

    • Alan Jeffrey says:

      Have a look at SAPS HQ in Durban. The high rise police accomodation on site is derelict having been taken over by squatters and with a huge mound of rubbish at ground level. SAPS high Rise on Ridge road is literally falling apartwith big chunks of the outer skin brickwork and plumbing apparently totally shot. This ANC government = no pride, no shame.

  • Gerrit Marais says:

    Wonder if Cele realises that he is actually putting a very firm finger on the his and the not-so-governing party’s abject incompetence and dereliction of duty

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    This isn’t about working conditions it’s about the shocking deficiency of SAPS management for which Cele himself must take the blame. The sorry state of infrastructure and impotence of SAPS didn’t happen overnight. It happened under Cele’s watch. He must pull his finger or get out of the way of progress.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Shocked? Incompetence, corruption and criminality from the top down in SAPS – what did Cele expect? He has overseen this catsstrophe@ He should be booted out ASAP.

  • Brian Cotter says:

    Quote “A catastrophic mess”. For Minister Cele, in his second term as Minister, he has shown once again that he is incapable of running a Ministry. The circular blaming is not amusing. How can crime be controlled when we are operating like the Keystone cops.

  • Rudd van Deventer says:

    The unsexy but essential work of maintenance. No big contracts just routine hard work against a budget and roll out plan.

  • Chris 123 says:

    Terrible Cele, but hey who’s in charge here? You and your corrupt ANC. No one else’s fault please resign and take all top cops with you.

  • Graeme J says:

    What I really don’t understand is why CR keeps the Man in the Hat (aka Bheki Cele) on in his cabinet. I can only assume that Cele has some dirt on CR that is preventing his sacking.

  • Douglas Hammond says:

    It has become pointless, after more than twenty years, to continually complain about the state of the central and provincial governments. We must accept that this is the human condition in South Africa. It is depressing to read about the condition of our police stations and abandoned railway stations with their stripped roofs and crumbling walls and listen to the sour taste of denial haunting everything. We can be grateful that we have amongst us those who
    are prepared to ignore the sensitivities of politicians and Millenials to state the facts.
    In May 2010, Dr. Christo Wiese delivered a speech in which he pointed out the “…..unacceptably high levels of crime and low level of policing efficiency, together with the ever-present fear of corruption and maladministration” in Government. Since then this observation has never been diluted in any way – if anything it has mushroomed into an epidemic from which we may never emerge.
    In a book entitled ‘The Chaos Point,’ the World Wisdom Council discusses a way forward that offers a scenario that could save us from ourselves.
    The trick is to get all of Goverment to read it even if only five percent end up understanding it and its implications.

  • Frans Ferreira says:

    What happened to the RAMP? ( Repair and Maintainance Programme). This programme was run by NDPW on most of public buildings with the sole purpose of maitaining these building in pristine condition.

  • John Cartwright says:

    This is such old news. What is it that has made Cele and De Lille suddenly wake up and go boo-hoo? The approach of elections, perhaps?

  • Jacques Wessels says:

    I would propose that all the neighborhood watches visit their local SAPS premises and report the outcomes in the local press. Only by awareness & subsequent negative votes will these politicians & officials be force to work or be fired

  • Esskay Esskay says:

    We pay all these ministers and “senior” people to tell us it is a mess. Maybe we need people who will say they can fix it instead of just throwing up their hands and passing the buck.

  • John Laurence Laurence says:

    The same applies to every government department. All decaying with no maintenance.

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