The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) has condemned recent attacks on police stations, with the latest target being Tsineng in the Northern Cape that was robbed at gunpoint on 31 July.
The union partly attributed the attacks on inadequate resources, which gave criminals the courage to pounce, and called for reforms in the police force.
Only two police officials were on duty when three men raided the station situated about 60km from Kuruman. Two shotguns, three R5 rifles and 10 pistols as well as ammunition and magazines were stolen, said Colonel Brenda Muridili, spokesperson for the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure.
The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) is investigating the incident but has not yet made arrests.
The police service went on high alert two weeks ago after receiving intelligence of planned armed raids on stations, allegedly for the purpose of stealing weapons. The planned attacks were believed to form part of a second wave of violence by supporters of former president Jacob Zuma after he was jailed last month for contempt of court.
Although the initial threat is understood to be limited to KwaZulu-Natal, police management is concerned that attackers may also target police stations and arsenals in other provinces.
Popcru said the latest “brazen” attack took place against the backdrop of criminals becoming aware of the many underlying problems facing police stations, including understaffing and the shortage of resources. It noted that the Tsineng robbery happened in an area with a population of 23 000 people and 43 villages with “only two police officers responsible for providing services”.
“This not only places these officers’ lives at risk but also further generates the misinformed narrative that our men and women in blue are intentionally failing to address the crime situation within their communities, while in reality, their incapacity is due to the uneven allocation of resources,” the union said.
Similar incidents in Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape demonstrated the reversed position of police stations, it said: “Despite being safe havens, they are now becoming unsafe territories for both officers and community members.”
“It is through the restructuring of the SAPS [South African Police Service] that we can find long-term solutions,” Popcru said, adding that this would address the duplication of functions, weak command and control and poor service delivery at police station level.
“The process of restructuring is informed by the need to improve conditions for the service provided, with its goals being to ensure improved productivity and morale, increased organisational effectiveness and efficiency,” said the union.