Law & Order

South African law enforcement in deep crisis

General Kgomotso Phahlane

Law enforcement in South Africa is in trouble while the attention of the top management of the SAPS is occupied by issues and activities other than their primary task.

The picture that emerges from last week's Statistics SA’s Victims of Crime survey; shocking evidence by Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) to parliament’s police portfolio committee on crime and corruption in SAPS; and news of an orchestrated campaign to smother forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan’s bid to expose acting police commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane.

The Stats SA survey reveals how ordinary South Africans are increasingly losing trust in the SAPS. They are taking drastic measures to protect themselves and their properties – in the process spending R15-billion more out of their own pockets annually than the SAPS’ estimated R30-billion budget.  

The picture that emerge is of a society, increasingly frightened of crime‚ with burglary and home robbery topping the list, despite a decline in housebreaking and home robberies from 931 000 incidents in 2010 to 807 000 in 2015/16.

Some of the more alarming statistics include:

  • Almost 70% of South Africans feel unsafe at night;
  • The number of households beefing up their security with high walls, razor wires or vicious dogs, have increased from 49% in 2011 to 51.2% in 2015/16; and
  • A decline in society’s faith in the police and courts over the same period, with the level of satisfaction with the police's ability to deliver on their mandate declining from an estimated 64.2% to 58.8%.

The decline was the worst in the Western Cape where society's trust in the police dropped from 71‚3% to 57‚1%.


The level of despondency in society with the police's inability to combat or investigate crime is palpable from the survey results – most people believing it was pointless to report crime as the police could not, or would not, do anything about it.

Apart from murder and car theft, crime is under-reported because of this situation.  The finding confirms the generally held view that the main reason most South Africans report crime is because insurance companies demand a police case number before settling a claim.    

Statistician General Pali Lehohla’s judgement that the findings ”... is an indictment that people have lost hope in what police could do about crime‚” must be disconcerting.

The O’Sullivan case

Academic and other studies have shown that there are a variety of reasons for the decline in the effectiveness of the SAPS despite the valiant endeavours of thousands of honest and hard-working policemen and women.

Undoubtedly one of the more upsetting reasons remains the high level of corruption in the police at all levels, but particularly at senior level.

Arguably the most striking example must be the current harassment of Paul O’Sullivan.

 A forensic investigator of note, O’Sullivan has been waging a crusade against crime and police corruption for years.

Controversial, and somewhat of a maverick, O’Sullivan’s relentless pursuit and contribution to conviction of former police commissioner and one-time Interpol head, Jackie Selebi, and Czech underworld crime boss Radovan Krejcir, has made him a household name and popular figure among many ordinary law-abiding citizens.

The criminal underworld and some senior corrupt police officers regard him a villain they would prefer to have removed. In these circles, he has often been publicly vilified as a “madman”, “unhinged” or a “CIA” or “foreign” agent.

These claims again surfaced in the case of Phahlane, who described him as “a deranged individual” and “a nutcase”.

Police Minister Nhleko, predictably, joined the chorus by reviving claims that allegations of criminality in the SAPS are driven by “outside interests.”

In contrast IPID head, Robert McBride, is on record that he has “the utmost respect” for O’Sullivan as an investigator.

The overused and unsubstantiated claims about “foreign interests“ have become so unconvincing and ineffective, one feels compelled to suggest a list of alternative scapegoats to blame for ineptness, often characterizing state machinery at so many levels.  

Writing on a more serious note, Marianne Thamm of the Daily Maverick comes to the same conclusion: “However, as one of the most powerful men in the country, along with Minister of State Security David Mahlobo, and backed by seemingly bottomless resources, Nhleko appears powerless to expose and charge these dangerous foreign forces which threaten the country’s democracy,” she wrote.

O’Sullivan has survived assassination attempts, harassment, intimidation and being detained by the SAPS on several occasions, often under false pretences and unlawfully.

Only last week, O’Sullivan was again arrested in contravention of a court order that he had to be given 48 hours' notice of his arrest.

Fight back   

There is consensus that the latest harassment of O’Sullivan, preceded by the arrest and treatment of his legal adviser in a manner that will make a tinpot dictatorship proud, is the  fightback of Phahlane to derail the on-going investigation by IPID into his affairs.

Phahlane, who replaced former disgraced police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, after the Marikana fiasco, is being investigated by IPID for alleged corruption, money laundering, fraud and defeating the ends of justice.

True challenge       

It has become a challenge to stay on top of all the allegations and investigations regarding the nefarious and illegal activities in the higher echelons of SAPS. 

 Richard Mdluli, former police crime intelligence head, Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza, Gauteng Hawks Head, Prince Mokotedi, former Divisional Commissioner of Detective Service, Lieutenant-General Vinesh Moonoo and Major-General Mabula are some of the individuals under investigation.

Major-General Mabula, with a history of being involved in politically-motivated arrests, was bought in from North West province to intimidate O’Sullivan and his legal adviser Sarah Jane Trent on behalf of Phahlane.

Mabula has arrested former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Major General Johan Booysen as well as prosecutor Gerrie Nel in 2008. Both arrests were later declared unlawful.

Mabula himself is under investigation for the death of a former police informant.

Gen. Johan Booysen’s book, Blood on Their Hands, provides a sobering and disturbing glimpse into the dark pit of menace that law enforcement in South Africa has come to.

The latest shock to an already suspicious and disillusioned South African public came from IPID revelations before the parliamentary committee of police of an alleged all-out war between criminal gangs finside the SAPS for control over drugs confiscated from smugglers at the OR Tambo International Airport.

The appalling state in which SAPS finds itself, has many causes, with improper political interference certainly one of the more serious indictments.

The SAPS, like so many other institutions of the state, has fallen victim to mismanagement and exploitation – the trademark of the Zuma administration.  

by Garth Cilliers

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