THE BIG READ: SAPS needs overhaul
The South African constitution places the South African Police Service in the frontline against crime and obliges it "to protect and secure the inhabitants of the republic and their property".
At one level, this has been taken seriously and in the last decade the SAPS has expanded to a huge organisation of more than 194000 staff, including approximately 160000 trained police officials and around 34000 civilian support staff.
Its budget for 2012/13 is R62.5- billion, which represents 65.3% of the total criminal justice budget.
However, in order for the SAPS to be effective against crime, it has to ensure that the public has confidence in it. This will only occur if its leadership consists of men and women who are highly skilled professionals with the appropriate expertise and integrity.
There is little doubt that the many examples of senior officers being implicated in crime and corruption has changed this picture.
Furthermore, it is demonstrative of the extent to which effective leadership is lacking in the SAPS. The leadership problem starts with the national commissioner of police. The previous national commissioner, Jackie Selebi, who had no experience in policing when he was appointed by then president Thabo Mbeki, made many poor decisions regarding the structure of the SAPS, such as closing down important specialised units.
In 2010 he was convicted on a charge of corruption and sentenced to 15 years in prison. In July 2009 Bheki Cele was appointed by President Jacob Zuma.
Cele soon gained media prominence, more for his often tactless and irresponsible public utterances than for his leadership qualities. In 2011 the South African Police Union publicly accused him of nepotism after the appointment of close family members and friends to senior positions in the SAPS.
These allegations followed the release of the report by the public protector on the alleged irregularities relating to the leasing of SAPS office premises.
Zuma later announced Cele's suspension and the appointment of a board of inquiry to investigate Cele's wrongdoings. The inquiry was concluded this monthand the country now awaits its findings.
Allegations of ongoing irregularities relating to the business of the SAPS' supply chain management prompted Zuma to ask the Special Investigating Unit to investigate possible corruption in the allocation of contracts handled by this division in August 2010.
This investigation is not yet concluded, but since it began its work, three generals connected to the supply chain management took early retirement and another is on suspension. The crime intelligence division has also for years been fraught with allegations of criminal conduct and abuse of power.
For example, Mulangi Mphego, head of the division during Selebi's term, was accused of unlawful activities including interfering with a key state witness, Glen Agliotti, during Selebi's corruption investigation. This led to criminal charges being laid against Mphego and his resignation in 2009.
He was succeeded by the now infamous Lieutenant General Richard Mdluli, who appears to be protected at the highest level, given that criminal charges of murder and corruption have been controversially withdrawn in spite of a large amount of evidence against him. In addition, investigations into a substantial number of separate allegations of Mdluli's involvement in corruption into misuse of the SAPS secret service account have inexplicably stopped.
The sudden closure of the apparently successful Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit in Durban in March 2012 is another example.
Members of the unit were in February praised by a judge in the Pongola High Court for their professional work on the case involving the KZN-26 gang, notorious for cash-in-transit heists, robberies and murder.
Then there were sensational claims made by a police officer that the unit was operating as a "hit squad". The unit was quickly closed without the allegations against its members being properly investigated. A notice of intended suspension was served on the provincial head of the Hawks, Major General Johan Booysen, to whom they ultimately report.
This must be viewed against the background of corruption and fraud charges being investigated by the Hawks against prominent Durban businessman Thoshan Panday.
Media reports claim the corruption charge followed the alleged attempt by Panday and Colonel Navin Madhoe from the SAPS KwaZulu-Natal supply chain management to bribe Booysen with R2-million to assist Panday with the withdrawal of the fraud charges against him.
It was reported that KwaZulu-Natal SAPS Provincial Commissioner Monnye Ngobeni had tried to halt the investigation into Panday. She became a subject of the Hawks investigations after it emerged that Panday had paid for her husband's birthday party. The NPA declined to prosecute her, alleging there was "insufficient evidence".
On April 10, The Star newspaper published an article headlined "Stress, frustration wreck police force" that pointed out how allegations of mismanagement at the highest levels has tarnished the image of the police and complicates their lives .
The Institute for Security Studies reiterates its call for a judicial commission of inquiry with strong powers of investigation and subpoena and the necessary resources to independently probe the allegations and make practical recommendations for corrective measures.
- Burger is senior researcher for the Crime and Justice Programme at the Institute for Security Studies. This is an edited version of an article which first appeared on Creamer Media's www.polity.org.za