The NDP vision of a professional and well-resourced police service has not been realised, affecting social cohesion and public trust.

by  MIKHAIL MOOSA AND GARETH NEWHAM

The National Development Plan (NDP) presented a vision that by 2030, “The police service [should be] a well-resourced, professional institution staffed by highly skilled officers who value their work, serve the community, safeguard lives and property without discrimination, protect the peaceful against violence and respect the rights of all to equality and justice.”

Hardly any of the recommendations for achieving this vision have been implemented. The consequence is that both policing and public safety have substantially deteriorated since the adoption of the NDP in 2012.

Between 1994 and 2012, SA’s murder rate dropped 54%. However, over the past eight years this positive trend has been reversed, with murder increasing 37%. The latest crime statistics show that 21,325 people were murdered in the 2019/2020 financial year. Out of the 58 people who were murdered every day on average last year, 48 were men, seven were women and three were children under the age of 18.

The 43% rise in armed attacks over the same period has contributed to the increase in murders. In 2019/2020, 143,990 armed robberies were reported to the police — an average of 396 armed attacks every day. Yet the true figure is much higher as only about 40% of the victims of street robberies and 60% of home robberies report the crime to the SA Police Service (SAPS).

Public safety has deteriorated in part due to a notable decline in policing since 2012. Despite the SAPS budget increasing 60% since then, the number of annual arrests has fallen 24.5% and the ability of the police to solve crimes (the detection rate) has dropped by 31% for murder and 24% for aggravated robbery. Last year, less than 20% of murders and less than 17% of armed robberies reported to the SAPS were solved.

As perpetrators of these crimes increasingly get away with it, they are emboldened to commit more crimes, and other criminally orientated individuals start to follow suit.

As well as the decline in police performance has been the decline in accountability for police misconduct. The number of disciplinary hearings held in 2019/2020 was 69% lower than in 2011/2012. Out of the more than 42,000 formal complaints received against police officers by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) since 2011, 95% are closed with no sanction against the subject officer.

Racism, gender-based violence and other forms of intolerance and distrust are common. An ideal cohesive society is one in which there is a recognition of a shared identity amid diverse groups

Victims of unlawful behaviour have increasingly started to turn to the civil courts for compensation. The amount paid out by the police last year was 153% higher than in 2012. The police have had to pay out more than R2.6bn to victims of proven cases of unlawful police officer conduct over the past eight years.

With an annual budget of more than R101bn and a staff complement of more than 187,000, the SAPS should be able to at least stabilise levels of murder, rape and robbery. However, even in 2012, the NDP recognised that “serial crises of top management in the police” have profoundly weakened policing in SA. None of the seven people occupying the post of SAPS national commissioner since 2009 was appointed after a competitive, merit-based and transparent process as recommended by the NDP.

Subsequently, two were found to be unfit following boards of inquiry, one is being prosecuted for fraud and corruption, and the incumbent has a scathing high court judgment against him, which may also lead to a board of inquiry considering his fitness for office.

Nevertheless, simply ensuring the SAPS national commissioner is competent and honest is insufficient. Scores of poor appointments have been made to the 800 senior management echelon over the years. It was recently reported that 228 top SAPS managers do not possess the necessary qualifications for the posts they occupy.

It is for this reason that the NDP recommended the establishment of a national police board to undertake a detailed performance assessment of the almost 200 generals and more than 600 brigadiers responsible for the performance of the SAPS and conduct of its members. Most highly skilled, experienced and honest senior commanders would welcome such an initiative as it would enhance their authority.

Those that were irregularly appointed and were not performing could be removed and replaced by more capable women and men. The unfortunate reality is that without an initiative to rejuvenate the top management structure of the SAPS we can expect little improvement in policing or public safety.

It is critical that Ramaphosa and his cabinet recognise that unless they ensure the recommendations in the NDP, along with the 2018 panel of experts report on policing and crowd management, are implemented, little progress will be made to improve public safety.

Deteriorating public safety also constrains social cohesion, made even more difficult by SA’s history of legislated, racialised inequality and segregation. Racism, gender-based violence and other forms of intolerance and distrust are common. An ideal cohesive society is one in which there is a recognition of a shared identity amid diverse groups, a high degree of trust among groups of citizens and the state, and in which inequalities are minimal.

The SA reconciliation barometer, a nationally representative public opinion survey conducted by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, provides valuable insights into the state of social cohesion. The barometer focuses on three primary indicators: shared identities, societal trust and perceived inequalities.

The 2019 barometer shows that many South Africans do not have a high degree of trust in people outside their immediate families and neighbourhoods. Respondents are most trusting of their relatives, but much less trusting of people from other racial, religious or linguistic groups. Foreigners, particularly from other African countries, are the least trusted group in society. Mistrust among diverse groups of South Africans is both a cause and a consequence of the legacies of apartheid. Roughly 40% of respondents reported they never interact with people from other race groups in their homes or public transport.

Many South Africans primarily identify with their linguistic group. On the other hand, the barometer reveals that a majority agree that there is more that unites us than keeps us apart. Four in five respondents agree that being a South African is an important part of how they see themselves. South Africans are proud of their cultural and linguistic heritage, but recognise the importance of a common national identity.

South Africans identify extreme inequalities in income and wealth as the greatest source of division in society. It dampens social cohesion, reduces opportunities for cross-cultural interaction and, by contributing to increased crime rates, also shapes public perceptions of trust.

As we look to contain and overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, it is crucial that the NDP recommendations for improving policing and public safety are properly implemented, and that policies that aim to reduce inequality and foster a more inclusive and cohesive society are prioritised.

Picture: WERNER HILLS

Picture: WERNER HILLS

• Moosa is project leader of the SA Reconciliation Barometer at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. Newham is head of the Justice and Violence Prevention Programme of the Institute for Security Studies. This is the seventh instalment in a series about SA’s progress towards the 2030 goals of the National Development Plan.