/ 4 February 2022

Abuse of police funds and ANC infighting a boon for private security firms

Hostel 6621 Dv
Uncertainty and dysfunction: The South African National Defence Force and South African Police Service in a joint operation. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The use of public funds in ANC political infighting and the “abuse of money” in the South African Police Service (SAPS) hinders the police from doing their work properly, says Police Minister Bheki Cele

Moreover, the police ministry has acknowledged that the legal woes besetting national police commissioner Khehla Sitole, including his mooted suspension from the post over the alleged misuse of crime intelligence secret service funds, has created uncertainty in the police service.

Last year, Sitole tried to keep classified documents meant to be used to investigate alleged corruption. The high court and supreme court of appeal chastised the national police commissioner for being an obstacle to the investigation into graft allegations.  

Political infighting and alleged corruption has been a boon for private security companies, with a November report showing that the ratio of private security members to the country’s citizens far outstrips the police-to-population ratio. 

There is one police officer for every 413 citizens, but one security officer for 106 citizens, according to a report by the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Psira).

In total, there are 564 540 employed private security officers, compared with 182 126 police officers. 

Even though the police service is expected to reduce its budget during the medium term at an average annual rate of 0.8%, from R99.6-billion in 2020-21 to R97.1-billion in 2023-24, as announced in Cele’s budget vote in May last year, the minister said the government was looking at increasing the number of police officers by 3 000 in the current financial year, which ends in March. 

But it is the dysfunction in the crime intelligence division that Cele has identified as an impediment to fighting crime. 

The minister, who was speaking in December during the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) hearings into last July’s unrest and riots, said the use of crime intelligence’s R500-million secret service fund in ANC political battles was an “abuse of money” and hampered the police service’s capabilities to carry out its crime prevention mandate. 

More than 340 people died during the July unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. 

Cele used the ANC’s December 2017 elective conference at Nasrec, Johannesburg, as an example of how crime intelligence allegedly abused its secret service fund in party-political contestation. 

The Mail & Guardian reported in November last year that a charge sheet had been drawn up for high-ranking crime intelligence officials linked to the alleged corrupt use of R45-million to buy grabbers, or spyware equipment, to monitor calls and text messages, at inflated prices. 

“You know, this money [from] the secret service is the most abused money within the police — most abused money. You have money where people just go to find money to run their conference in Nasrec,” Cele said at the SAHRC hearings. 

“People who wanted to run a parallel conference in Nasrec; they just go to this money. You have money that has been signed [for] here … signed by a person who is [in an acting capacity] that I believe had no authority to act.”

He added that leadership instability in the crime intelligence division, including the resignation of General Yolisa Mokgabudi in September last year, made it “difficult to account for” the R500-million secret service money.  

“I hear that General [Feroz] Khan is acting as the head of [crime] intelligence — I don’t know; I did not sign for that. Now, I tried to find out from commissioner [Sitole]. He explains to say, ‘No, it was not acting — it was a part of acting.’ 

“What is a part of acting and not acting; sign some things and not [other] things? But the guy [Khan] has signed everything, including finances, and a long list of finances that are signed.”  

Police ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba acknowledged that the crime intelligence division was “hampering” crime detection, including last year’s unrest. 

“However, lessons have been learnt by the SAPS from this period and efforts are constantly there to improve the service and capabilities of the country’s law enforcement, to ensure they are more than up to the task,” he said.

The police service has also failed to implement a November 2020 restructuring agreement, with Themba saying the ministry was “concerned” by the slow pace of implementation, “but hopeful the process will be finalised soon”. 

On the uncertainty caused by Sitole’s legal woes, including the commissioner’s mooted suspension, Themba said: “While the issue of the pending suspension lies with the president, it does cause uncertainty and is worrisome to the ministry, when matters against the commissioner keep piling up.”

Ramaphosa wrote to Sitole in September last year, asking the commissioner to provide reasons he should not be suspended.