Volunteer defence and police services face personnel strength shortages

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The reserve component of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) acknowledges it needs “rejuvenation” with the volunteer part of the SA Police Service (SAPS) in a far worse condition.

Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) earlier this month had the travails of the Reserve Force set out for it by Brigadier General Zoleka Niyabo-Mana, as Acting Chief Defence Reserves. In part her presentation has it “ageing force and gender imbalance” added to the “lack of a new intake” means “an urgent feeder system” is needed to rejuvenate the Reserve Force. Reserve Force strength is said to be around the 19 000 mark with the majority – 12 000 – in the Army Reserve.

All told the part-time soldiers number around sixteen thousand more than the men and women in the SAPS Reserve. The current number of police reservists is 3 502, as per the response to a Parliamentary question by Police Minister Bheki Cele.

This, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow police minister Andrew Whitfield maintains, is a loss of more than 90% of the police reserve capacity in 12 years.

“In 2011/12 there were 52 054 SAPS reservists across the country. Ten years later in 2021/22 SAPS was left with just 4 393 reservists. Today, the numbers have declined to a devastating new low, with just 3 502 reservists across the country,” was his reaction to Cele. He further points out the “collapse of the [police] reservist programme is devastating in the fight against crime as reservists have played a critical force multiplier role”. This is specifically as regards declining SAPS personnel numbers.

Another public representative concerned about personnel numbers in what President Cyril Ramaphosa calls the three national armed services -the Border Management Authority (BMA), SANDF and SAPS – is Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leader Pieter Groenewald.

He takes the SAPS Special Task Force in the KwaZulu-Natal Province as an example saying the specialised unit now has “only” 15 of an initial 53 personnel. Among reasons given for leaving SAPS are mismanagement, an unfair promotion policy and “poor” salaries.

Elaborating during a National Assembly (NA) debate on crime and ways and means of best fighting it, Groenewald said poor salaries and working conditions allied to a “poor promotion policy, directly related to affirmative action (AA)” were the reasons for leaving.

“They [the reasons] apply to the entire police service – from specialised units through to station level. Expert and skilled members who form the backbone of the police are leaving the force while corruption and deteriorating morale are rampant.

“There are constant cuts to the police budget, while the number of police officers per members of the population keeps decreasing. The ratio currently stands at one policeman for more than 420 members of the public,” he said.