By Mary de Haas
The main reason for the abnormally high rate of violent crime in South Africa is because most citizens do not receive the protection from crime which Section 53 of our Constitution stipulates the SAPS must prevent and combat.
The inter-related reasons for their abject failure to do so include incompetent and politically-driven management and the corrupt, nepotistic system it has become since 2009.
Taxpayers, who fund this department, resort to paying private security to defend their homes and businesses if they can afford to do so. Most cannot afford that luxury and the poor – who are usually in the worst-policed areas – are among the most vulnerable to crime.
At the same time, a fortune in public funds is spent on providing bodyguards from the SAPS and private security firms for politicians and senior government employees, including those who bear responsibility for the criminalisation of our society described by the Zondo Commission. Among the most vulnerable are whistleblowers, who not only lose their jobs and income when they expose systemic state corruption, but often their lives as well.
Corruption continues to flourish because many people, who would like to speak out, don’t for fear of losing their own lives and those of their families if they do – because they do not receive the protection that is afforded to corrupt politicians.
Despite a greatly increased police budget, there are now 20 000 fewer police members than there were a decade ago. Among the reasons for this decrease are the exorbitant amounts spent on legal services because of civil claims linked to endemic abuse, torture, and killings, and defending court actions brought by members dismissed illegally by powerful and corrupt management members who wish to replace them with friends and relatives.
The salaries of management members eat into a staffing budget which could be used to employ far more junior members to do the bulk of the policing work. Although there were problems, relative to current police performance the pre-2009 policing management structure worked well with far fewer in top management.
This stratum grew exponentially during the Zuma years, often to incorporate deployed political cadres. In addition to salaries there are other perks, and a standard allowance across the board does not discriminate between members who deserve it for risking their lives and the fat cat management members spending their time in offices and meetings to which they are driven by more junior members.
From a rough calculation based on average top management salaries and those of the lowest ranks, six junior members could be employed for every brigadier and general – and there are an estimated 400 of the former and 200 of the latter countrywide.
Personal dealings with these members in different provinces suggest most are incompetent, and often owe their jobs to politicians. Two recent examples show how little vetting there is of employment to management. In one instance, a woman was employed as a major-general, received an advance payment, and then disappeared with an SAPS BMW and phone when asked to verify the qualifications, including a doctorate she claimed to have.
Another top management member in a key position, with implications for national security, is alleged to have invited a sex worker to his home, only to be drugged and robbed of a SAPS computer and phone containing sensitive information.
He is alleged to have perjured himself when he opened a robbery case and, when the investigating officer exposed the malfeasance, was removed and maliciously charged.
The SAPS has a VIP section to guard politicians and presumably management members. Adding to the work-related stress that decent hard-working members experience, is the discrimination in promotions and salaries of this unit’s members, vis-á-vis the rank-and-file, which was one of the grievances that long-serving junior members tried to communicate to management three years ago, and they were dismissed for doing so.
There is no transparency – regarding costs, numbers of guards and reasons for providing them – about why so many bodyguards should guard so many politicians and selected government officials, especially as most of the threats they face come from their own political comrades.
With the high salaries they earn relative to the work most do, they should, at the very least, contribute to their own protection. Councillors are among the worst offenders and should be forced to contribute if they really do need bodyguards. They should fund their own if the municipality is dysfunctional and does not pay its debts.
There are also scams involving municipal governance, and there are examples of elected officials establishing their own security companies through fronts. Nor is it known whether these guards are registered with the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority.
Blue light brigades are known to intimidate motorists, and even cause accidents, and in one such incident several years ago two of those travelling with a well-guarded provincial official were known to have served time in prison for murder-related charges.
Despite these excesses, there are no guards for whistle-blowers. Minister of Police Bheki Cele refuses to give Thabiso Zulu, with an impressive record for fighting corruption, any protection, and police members were allegedly implicated in an attempt on his life in 2019.
Known police members abused him and others, and maliciously arrested him in 2020. Senior, experienced SAPS administrator and police corruption whistleblower in the Free State, Patricia Mashale is in hiding in fear of her life.
When a police threat analysis confirmed that the threat came from colleagues, she was ordered to change her findings and, when she refused to do so, was maliciously charged. In Italy, even investigative journalists have received protection from the police, yet the South African government, which claims to oppose corruption, refuses to provide modest protection for the whistleblowers who are their most powerful allies in the fight against the corruption pandemic, in which state security agencies are leaders, and which threatens the stability of our country.
Our political leaders show no indication of taking their oath of office to uphold the Constitution seriously.
De Haas is an Honorary research fellow at the University of KZN’s School of Law, and a member of the Navi Pillay Research Group on justice and human rights.