SAPS leads the country in corruption complaints, as Ramaphosa appoints Masemola as top cop

While National Police Commissioner serves his last day as cop head, corruption within the police came out top in the latest Corruption Watch report.

On the same day the Presidency announced General Sehlahle Fannie Masemola as the new national police commissioner, Corruption Watch has revealed that the South African Police Service leads the country in the number of corruption complaints against the organisation.

Thursday marked the last day for police commissioner General Khehla Sitole, who in February agreed with President Cyril Ramaphosa to terminate his contract early in light of the spats between the commissioner and Police Minister Bheki Cele.

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Just hours before Masemola was announced, Corruption Watch released a report on the latest corruption incidents reported to them, with the SAPS coming out on top. According to their 2021 report, corruption in the policing sector topped the scale over the past few years, representing 10% of the overall corruption reports, followed by corruption in schools at 5.8%, and Covid-related corruption at 3.6%, with the latter also including further complaints in the policing sector.

This may come as no surprise, considering the national police commissioners and their deputies are constantly embroiled in criminal activities, legal challenges, and distracted by political issues instead of focusing on key responsibilities of leadership and direct response, said University of Free State anthropologist Professor Theodore Petrus.

“Several events in recent times have exposed the negative effects of the problems in the leadership in SAPS. But perhaps the most telling were the riots of July 2021. Just prior to the outbreak of violence, Sitole had unsuccessfully attempted to overturn a High Court decision that found that he and his deputies at the time were politically compromised. Then the riots occurred and South Africans watched in horror the apparent inability of the SAPS to restore law and order amid the chaos.”

Professor Theodore Petrus

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Civil rights organisation Action Society has suggested that instead of the closed system, which currently allows the process to be controlled by those in power, an external panel of policing experts should rather handle the restructuring of the entire police management according to merit and not political affiliation.

Action Society’s Ian Cameron said the same panel must do skills audits of all senior management, including deputy national commissioners, provincial commissioners and their deputies and divisional commissioners.

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“All commissioners must undergo polygraph tests to confirm or deny involvement in any form of corruption. The skills audit must determine competence and confirm that appointment was not due to any political affiliation or union affiliation. If appointment was done due to political affiliation and not due to merit, the necessary remedial steps should be followed.”

Ian Cameron

“If General Vuma is at all being considered to replace Sitole, the process is already flawed,” Cameron said.

The right commissioner can end potential terrorist threats

According to Corruption watch, the top types of corruption ranged from abuse of authority, which came out top at 40%, such as the use of state resources to exert pressure on or use of violence against civilians.

In second place was dereliction of duty at 35%, where police personnel failed to act upon complaints against their own members. Bribery and extortion solicited from the public was third at 26%, particularly from those who requested protection of the police or were falsely accused.

According to Petrus, law enforcement cannot function adequately if its critical leadership structure were dysfunctional. The constant drama within the national commissioner’s office and SAPS leadership left citizens losing confidence in their ability to combat crime, he said.

This perception has not improved considering the Marikana massacre, the death of Andries Tatane and last year’s killing of Mthokozisi Ntumba during the Wits University student protests.

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“The national commissioner has the daunting task of leading the SAPS in a direction that clearly seeks to distinguish the current force from its historical predecessor. The examples mentioned above would suggest that no post-1994 SAPS commissioner has so far succeeded in this.”

Looking at the wider threat of terrorism and its impact on South Africa as well as the context of crime locally make it imperative for the right person to be appointed as police commissioner, said Petrus.

“What is the message that is sent to the international community and the local South Africans when a national commissioner is either involved in crime himself, or is too distracted by political infighting to focus on his responsibilities?

“Unfortunately, the only message that is heard loud and clear is that South Africa is open to business of terrorism and criminality. What are the consequences of this? Higher crime levels and increasing terrorist threats have a negative impact on investor confidence and the citizenry feels unsafe,” he said.