/ 3 November 2022

Do criminal syndicates operate in SAPS management?

There is increasing evidence that South African Police Service (SAPS) management is flouting labour legislation with impunity in dismissing decent, serving members who are not part of corrupt, nepotistic networks.

There is increasing evidence that South African Police Service (SAPS) management is flouting labour legislation with impunity in dismissing decent, serving members who are not part of corrupt, nepotistic networks. That is bad enough but new evidence suggests some members of management are running criminal, money-making syndicates. It is possible that some act in collusion with employees of the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF). 

Evidence started emerging when senior Free State administrator Patricia Mashale received emailed notice of her dismissal on 1 March 2022, following her reports to the SAPS national commissioner about alleged corrupt activities on the part of certain members of Free State management. This dismissal, like many others, is illegal, and court action is underway. Her salary for February was never paid, nor was other money due to her, such as leave pay. 

Hers is not an isolated case: Other members have been dismissed in breach of labour legislation; some are still fighting for reinstatement after winning arbitration awards and have not been paid money due to them. Some are waiting for many years of back pay. In one matter, the long-serving member has a labour court order in which both the minister and national commissioner of police are in contempt of court, and legal action is pending against them both. 

Legal actions for reinstatement continue but management knows that dismissed members lack the funds to secure good legal representation. At the same time, they themselves squander taxpayers’ money (which should be used to employ more police members) to prolong the disputes. Disturbingly, there seem to be no checks on the extent of wastage on legal costs by the SAPS. A senior legal officer admitted that the country could not afford these costs. 

As Mashale discovered when she started doing her tax return in March 2022, it gets worse. Taxes were reflected as having been paid for her after she had stopped receiving a salary at the end of January. She immediately reported what was happening to the South African Revenue Service, which has been requested to provide feedback. She later discovered that deductions for policies were also continuing — but her medical aid payments had been stopped. In other words, she is still on the SAPS system as a salaried employee — raising questions about who is receiving her salary. 

On 6 September 2022, Mashale was called by a captain from the Service Termination Centre at SAPS national headquarters. He asked her for the information he needed to complete her application to withdraw her pension from GEPF. She made it absolutely clear to him that the police had no right whatsoever to deal with GEPF on her behalf as it is the employee who applies directly to the fund for a pension withdrawal. The police are only required to confirm termination of service. She told the captain to stop what he was doing immediately.

On 1 November, Mashale received a text message from GEPF confirming that her pension benefits application had been received. She had not made any application herself. She called the pension fund and was told that the application had been received that same day and the fund was processing it. Normally, it takes months to process applications, and from the messages sent, Mashale has worked out that the application had been processed out of office hours suggesting that whoever did it had access to the GEPF database before the office opened. 

Co-incidentally, a very senior human resources manager against whom a complaint of corruption had, with Mashale’s assistance, been lodged, with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) is a member of the GEPF board. She is also on the board of the SSSBC (the Bargaining Council which oversees labour disputes involving police members; that a senior SAPS employee sits on this board represents an obvious conflict of interest). 

The human resources component of the SAPS features in many allegations of mismanagement and corruption (which are on record) and needs to be investigated. 

Mashale pointed out to the GEPF employee to whom she spoke that she had never applied for her pension benefits and she queried how they could be processing this application. She was informed that it was complete, with all the required certified supporting documents, including her ID and those certified by her bank. She had never signed any documents, nor had she been to a bank for any certification. She has also closed the bank account she was using when employed. Mashale was told that the documentation had been submitted by the police.

In other words, what she discovered was massive fraud, as she herself had not applied for payment nor signed any documents, including at a bank, so her signature has been forged – by the police, if it was they who approached GEPF. According to Mashale, all such communications and documents from provinces must be signed off by human resources at head office and the national commissioner of the SAPS. A case of fraud is being opened. 

Other dismissed members have reported receiving GEPF pension payouts without signing documents for them, so the police must have made the applications for them, illegally, if they had not signed personally. SAPS members who are part of a growing network of police who are trying to expose pervasive corruption have been advised to obtain pension fund statements from GEPF and check them against the deductions made from their salaries. 

Ipid has dragged its heels on cases opened by Mashale, including the illegal seizure of her personal cellphone over a year ago. Its failure to investigate the systemic corruption in the SAPS is conspicuous.

Its refusal to do so at the height of the carnage in Glebelands hostel, Durban, cost many lives. 

The blame for its apparent lack of will to tackle corruption lies with parliament, which has not, six years after a concourt order to give Ipid constitutional independence from the police ministry, even tabled relevant legislation. A full forensic audit of the SAPS salary system, especially relating to dismissed members, is urgently required. The office of the auditor general will be among those who will now be approached to conduct an in-depth investigation into SAPS financial mismanagement – and what it is costing South Africa. 

 This is an edited version of an article first published by the KZN Monitor.

Mary de Haas is an advocate and an activist for political and human rights, human dignity and social justice

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.