Too many generals and too few boots on the ground hampers SAPS' ability to fight crime: Tina Joemat-Pettersson

National police commissioner Gen Khehla Sitole admits that too few police officers is 'handicapping' the force.

30 July 2021 - 07:24 By paul ash
A top-heavy SAPS command structure means there are too many generals and brigadiers and not enough boots on the ground, says police portfolio committee chairperson Tina Joemat Pettersson.
A top-heavy SAPS command structure means there are too many generals and brigadiers and not enough boots on the ground, says police portfolio committee chairperson Tina Joemat Pettersson.
Image: Elvis Ntombela

SA needed fewer police generals and more constables if it was to have any hope of deploying enough members to protect SA's people from rising crime rates.

At a session convened for SAPS to brief parliament's police portfolio committee on stability in the police force and the ongoing restructuring process, the force's top cops — including police minister Bheki Cele and national police commissioner Gen Khehla Sitole — were grilled on the force's top-heavy, expensive command structure.

“We have over 200 generals, 600 brigadiers, and collectively they earn R1bn,” said committee chairperson Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

“Last year we did not take in 7,000 new recruits, this year another 7,000 recruits will not be taken in because of the public sector budget cuts, and next year [it] will again drop by 7,000,” she said.

That meant 24,000 new recruits would not be brought into the SAPS at a time when extra police were critically needed.

“These are boots on the ground,” said Joemat-Pettersson. “These are people who have to do the actual work.”

Sitole took issue with the previous decision to scale down the number of police despite SA's growing population.

“You police a population of 49-million with 199,000 strength, then you are expected to police an increased population of 59-million with 162,000,” he said. “That is a considerable scaling down and it handicaps the fulfilment of section 205".

Under the terms of section 205 of the constitution, the SAPS has a duty to fight and investigate crime, maintain public order, protect and secure SA's inhabitants and uphold and enforce the law.

The issue had been worsened by the depreciation of capital assets such as the fleet of Nyala armoured vehicles and the decay of the force's aerial capability, he added.

The number of serviceable SAPS helicopters had dropped from 14 in 2010 to five. The nine choppers had also been grounded for up to three years.

“The air fleet has collapsed,” he said.

A “large number” of Nyala vehicles were also out of service, he added.

“We can no longer fulfil the mandate of 100%," he said. “We are handicapped.”

Another challenge was that while the number of police stations continued to grow, lack of recruitment meant there were not enough police to staff them, he added.

Joemat-Pettersson also raised the as-yet unanswered questions concerning the assassination of anti-gang unit section head Lt-Col Charl Kinnear.

`Kinnear's murder had brought into “sharp focus” the possibility that senior SAPS members had colluded with criminals in the hit, she said.

“The media was full of stories about and allegations of police complicity in the murder. We've received monthly reports but we are not getting to the bottom of this investigation.”

Combined with court challenges by SAPS against the `National Prosecuting Authority and challenges from civil society against the dismissal or charging of SAPS members created a “picture of instability” in the force, she said.

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