Pretoria-headquartered civil rights organisation AfriForum welcomes – with reservations – the announcement of an increase in police reservists specifically with an eye to improving rural safety.
Its head of community safety Ian Cameron said AfriForum has been campaigning for the past two years hoping to force the SA Police Service (SAPS) to make more – and better – use of its reservists. As an example of how far they went he pointed to a North Gauteng High Court hearing earlier this year.
“An injunction was obtained against SAPS to send reservists for training to allow them to be added to the pool of usable members to help combat crime,” Cameron said in a statement.
Prior to the court hearing SAPS “either refused or dragged its feet” on reservist training as well as not sending serving officers for retraining and upskilling. This created a situation where reservists could not properly assist regular police as, according to legislation, they are not firearm competent, among others.
Cameron maintains this hesitancy saw police reservists decrease by about 50 000 on a national basis, the majority in rural areas.
National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole’s announcement to the Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) that there would be a recruitment drive for police reservists this year was cautiously welcomed by Cameron. Sithole did not give an indication of the number of reservists to be recruited.
“It seems SAPS is lending an ear to AfriForum pleas to use resources, including reservists, to support its crime combating attempts. It is regrettable drastic steps had to be taken by the court to bring home this reality,” Cameron said.
Marnus Kamfer, AfriForum community safety legal and risk manager, said AfriForum was “swamped” by requests from reservists refused training and community policing forums nationally wanting to assist.
“Reservists deliver services without being compensated. All these people want is to be able to deliver a service to the community,”
At the end of last year South Africa had 11 015 police reservists, down 82% from the 63 592 in 2010, a response given by SAPS to a parliamentary question showed.
This prompted Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow deputy police minister Dianne Kohler Barnard to say rural communities were “specially affected” by a lack of policing. Her party has repeatedly called for the establishment of rural safety unit in the SAPS.
“The steep drop in SAPS reservists means South Africans and farming communities in particular, continue to live in fear. Equally our police are so stretched they are set up for failure,” she said.