Police skills drain threatens South Africans’ safety

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Highly skilled and specialised members of South Africa’s Special Task Force and National Intervention Unit divisions are exiting these units at an alarming rate, leaving the country’s borders vulnerable and posing a significant risk to safety and security.

This is according to Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) President Thulani Ngwenya, who said the SAPS skills drain is now reaching critical levels as members retire or leave the service for better-paying positions in the private sector.

“This represents a serious threat to our national security, as our most skilled officers are leaving faster than we can train replacements,” he said.

“Law enforcement is already understaffed and underequipped, and this exodus from specialised divisions means that we cannot properly deal with serious crimes that fall beyond the scope of classic policing.”

He said that while private security firms are luring away highly trained personnel with lucrative offers, South Africa has been left vulnerable to security breaches. 

“Additionally, the migration of some of our most experienced and valuable officers to the private sector is not only weakening our law enforcement capabilities but also undermining the principle of state responsibility for protecting all citizens,” he said.

Ngwenya said active police numbers across SAPS have been unsatisfactory for years. 

For example, the total number of officers fell by 17,470 between 2012 and 2022, as revealed by the Annual Performance Plan for the 2023/2024 period. 

Meanwhile, the country’s population grew by more than eight million people during that time.

Despite the recent addition of new police recruits, Ngwenya said years of neglect mean there will be a gap in terms of suitably experienced personnel to replace those retiring. 

This will disproportionately impact specialised units, which have substantially higher appointment requirements.

“Even if the SAPS trains and hires the 10,000 new recruits pledged by the government this year, this will have little immediate impact on higher-level crimes,” he explained. 

“Dealing with these crimes requires the abilities of far more experienced officers, who take years to train and upskill to reach their positions.”

In addition, the skilled and highly trained Special Task Force members are jumping ship for better salaries in private security companies, where they are employed as bodyguards for individuals such as taxi bosses and the wealthy.

“This is very dangerous, as private security should not outnumber police in any country.” 

“It is not correct that private security’s numbers are stronger than the state’s because private security’s concern is for the rich people who can pay for their services, not for the poor or for protecting our communities.”

“The responsibility for protecting the country cannot be privatised – it must remain in the hands of the state in accordance with our Constitution.”

Ngwenya said the solutions to this problem require political and administrative will from the government to implement POPCRU’s proposals.

For example, due to the limitations in the SAPS’ current promotion structures, many members feel that there is little recognition for performance or room in the organisation for their career growth. 

By comparison, private security work often offers better hours, working environments, and pay.

POPCRU has, therefore, advocated for changes to the SAPS’ organisational and promotion model to allow for better upward mobility, especially for those seeking to join the Special Task Force and National Intervention Unit ranks. 

These include setting stronger and clearer guidelines for promotions to senior positions based on skill and experience.

The government could also offer highly trained and experienced special forces officers better financial incentives that correspond to their work and the risks they face, such as increasing their danger allowance from R6,000 to R20,000 per month.


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