Gauteng Crime Prevention Warden says Lesufi ‘was misinformed’, appeals for meeting with premier
The controversy around the Gauteng Crime Prevention Wardens, and the unlawful manner of their establishment, refuses to go away. A complaint has been lodged with the Public Protector by the NGO, Accountability Now, and political parties in Gauteng are questioning the legality of the wardens. In addition, wardens themselves are apparently increasingly unhappy with the legal limbo in which they find themselves.
In an article in Daily Maverick on 21 September 2023, Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesfui accused us of fabricating and manipulating facts about the Gauteng Crime Prevention Wardens (GCPWs), claiming “most of the accusations and claims made against them are overstated, political, contrived and speculative”.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Response to Gauteng premier Lesufi on CPWs
However, last week an interview with a serving Gauteng Crime Prevention Warden confirmed key aspects of our investigation and shed new light on what the day-to-day work of a GCPW is like.
The warden, a young person who left their job to join the wardens, described to us their experience from the point of applying for the position, through three months of training and, since July 2023, active duty as a GCPW. They said they believed Lesufi is being misinformed about what is actually happening: “He is not aware of what we are experiencing… we appeal to him to come and talk to us directly.”
According to the GCPW (whose name and bona fides we have verified) he/she had applied to join the GCPWs in November 2022 after their local councillor told them about the programme. The warden says s/he was “always passionate about law enforcement” and is respected in the community. However, after being selected and, at 24 hours’ notice instructed to attend the training, they were shocked at the circumstances they and others found themselves in.
There are people with criminal records and anger issues. I fear some of my colleagues.
The warden claims that “there was no proper pre-screening of applicants”. They allege that the conditions at the Castle Inn in Cullinan near Pretoria, where a batch of more than 1,000 recruits gathered for training, “were very bad, we slept in tents, we were often without food. There were not enough toilets and water shortages, so people got sick.”
Most of the time was spent on physical drills, and only two of their days were taken up with formal “peace officer training” that was organised by the Road Traffic Management Corporation.
In particular the warden lamented the lack of screening and psychometric evaluation of recruits. “There are people with criminal records and anger issues. I fear some of my colleagues,” s/he said.
When the trainee cohort passed out in late June, it was without a certificate. “Even today I don’t have any formal identification (as a GCPW) besides my pocket book.”
Thrown in the deep end
Since July the warden has been deployed in their local area, which we cannot name to protect their identity.
S/he explains that GCPWs are divided into five geographic “corridors” and then deployed to local police stations closest to where they live. But, s/he says, the problem is that although they work with the police, and follow their instructions, they don’t report to the SAPS, but to Gauteng traffic officers and the Department of Community Safety.
“We are caught between the two entities. It feels like SAPS don’t want us. They think we are like spies.”
“We are thrown in the deep end and not properly equipped. The SAPS tells us we must kick open doors, jump over fences, we must comply and complain later.”
The warden says that GCPWs are called up twice a week to participate in the SAPS’ Operation Shanela (a nationwide visibility campaign, meaning loosely “we sweep the streets”), on Thursdays and Saturdays, “in every corridor of Gauteng. All the wardens are called to attend the call-up instruction at a specific place, doing sting operations, roadblocks and arresting illegal immigrants.”
Sometimes I do commissioning at the police station, even though we do not have the powers of Commissioners of Oaths.
However, s/he says, most wardens lack the basic tools of the trade, such as functional walkie-talkies.
They are often insulted and sometimes threatened: “If we are under threat we must call 10111 like everyone else.”
One warden has already been killed, and s/he fears there may be more, given the violence and threats they encounter on the streets.
Although some of them were selected for firearms training and given bulletproof vests, this was recently paused.
The warden provided a copy of the contract of employment signed by all GCPWs which states: “During the on-the-job training phase of the contract period, the trainee will not be vested with any power or authority granted to a peace officer in the Department, until such time as the trainee is duly certified as a Peace Officer.”
This has still not happened. According to Chrispin Phiri, spokesperson for the minister of justice and correctional services, the legal process to authorise peace officers in Gauteng is still under consideration with the SAPS.
Watch on Carte Blanche: AmaPanyaza | Carte Blanche | M-Net
But in addition, the police minister seems to be distancing himself from the initiative. In a written response to parliamentary questions from Brett Heron of the GOOD party on 28 September 2023, Bheki Cele said: “The Minister of Police has no legal authority over any functionary who does not report under, or report to any Department within the Ministry of Police.” He added that outside of the SAPS and municipal police “there are no further legal standards that prescribe the training requirement in respect of the relevant functionaries”.
According to a legal expert we consulted, this means the GCPWs are still operating outside the law. Nevertheless, says the warden, “we do a lot of arrests… for drinking and driving, drugs, and of prostitutes. But if I arrest someone, a member of SAPS must open the docket.”
As a result, “although we make a lot of arrests, how many are actually prosecuted?
“Sometimes I do commissioning at the police station, even though we do not have the powers of Commissioners of Oaths.”
GCPWs are paid R6,300 per month and are on six-month contracts. They have no other employee benefits. Although they are on Persal – the government’s staff and payroll system – they are not on the police database.
“We love to work. But they also need to take care of us. It feels like we are being exploited.”
Lesufi’s pork pies
Maverick Citizen’s investigation has continued into other claims made by Lesufi in his rebuttal.
For example, although announcing that the wardens are “combat ready and deployed since July”, and despite Sizwe Pamla, Lesufi’s spokesperson, telling us that wardens “were appointed to augment the work of law enforcement agencies at the ward level as part of the ward-based policing model” and that they have have “undergone intensive training to perform their duties effectively”, Lesufi now says the wardens have not yet completed their training. He says their deployment to communities before receiving approval from the Department of Justice, and formal appointment as peace officers in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, is “on-the-job training” and therefore not unlawful.
Watch on Newzroom Afrika: Lesufi denies abuse of power amid questions over peace wardens
In his Daily Maverick article Lesufi said that “any abuse of authority by the wardens is to be reported to the Public Service Commission (PSC) by the public. The Risk Management Directorate [of the Department of Community Safety], which oversees the investigation of allegations of fraud and corruption against the department’s law enforcement personnel, investigates complaints against the wardens internally.”
However, in response to questions from the Daily Maverick, the PSC told us “there was no consultation from the Gauteng Provincial Government in respect of the processes to be followed in the appointment of the Gauteng Crime Prevention Wardens.” It says the PSC is an independent constitutional body whose role is to provide oversight: “The appropriate government structure to be consulted in this regard would be the SAPS Ministry.
“Members of the public can report any corrupt activities, including the abuse of authority, to the National Anti-Corruption Hotline at 0800 701 701, alternatively they can send an e-mail to [email protected].”
Finally we also looked into Lesufi’s claim that:
- “The CPW curriculum consists of three months of theoretical work and ongoing practical fieldwork under the supervision of the Gauteng Traffic Police, Metro Police departments and the SAPS”; and
- “Their education has received approval from the relevant Education and Training Quality Assurance Body via the national Department of Transport.”
In response to our questions, Collen Msibi, spokesperson for the National Department of Transport, said “the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), an entity of the Department of Transport, has an effective traffic training division which offers training to traffic officers in the country”.
The RTMC “provided peace officer training to some of the crime prevention officers through the Road Traffic Training Academy” which “is an accredited institution by Sasseta and the training offered was accredited”.
Unfortunately, Msibi’s evasive answer does not indicate how many of the 6,000 wardens were trained (“some” he says), nor how training in road traffic management equips CPWs for the extensive functions of Peace Officers that are set out in section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Act.
It is four months since Gauteng requested the minister of justice, belatedly to legalise the GCPWs by declaring them Peace Officers in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act. But in the meantime, crime in Gauteng continues unabated.
Despite the premier stating that “unannounced school searches are conducted jointly with various law enforcement agencies to ensure that a high level of discipline is maintained, thus ensuring conducive learning and teaching”, the MEC for education says he is looking at other measures to protect schools.
What behind-the-scenes deliberations there are that may influence a retrospective decision to legalise the GCPWs, we do not know. Both the SAPS and the Ministry of Justice are keeping mum. Meanwhile, thousands of young men and women who were recruited to the GCPWs remain uncertain of their futures. DM