Corruption on the rise since anti-graft unit closed

Kamogelo Seekoei, Getrude Makhafola, Vusi Ndlovu and Sapa

Kamogelo Seekoei, Getrude Makhafola, Vusi Ndlovu and Sapa

Complaints about corrupt policemen have surged since the cops closed their anti-corruption unit in 2002, according to the Institute for Security Studies.

About 43 cases were lodged with the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) each year between 1997 and 2002. This shot up to an average of 125 cases a year between 2002 and last year, says ISS researcher Andrew Faull in his study entitled Corruption and the South African Police Service: A review and its implications.

Constitutional and legal expert Shadrack Gutto said he doubted if the figure was a true reflection of corruption in the police service.

"One would expect a higher number than that. Though the study suggested that there has been an increase in cases opened against the police, there are probably more cases than that," he said.

Bishop Ndanganeni Phaswane, of the Johannesburg Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, said society tended to be complacent and accepted everything that police did.

"I hear that police tell people at roadblocks that they can choose to go to prison and get Aids or give 'spinach', meaning money, and be free."

Phaswane said because of fear people obliged and paid the bribes, though it was wrong.

"Society needs to take a stand against corruption because its results are too ghastly to contemplate."

He said more law enforcers were corrupt than the report had indicated.

Instead of a few bad apples tarnishing the entire organisation, corruption was "widespread, widely acknowledged, but seldom acted upon", Faull said, quoting a study by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

In response to the anti-corruption unit being shut down, the ICD created the "hopelessly understaffed and under-resourced" Anti-Corruption Command (ACC) in 2004, said Faull.

"The unit currently has a dedicated staff of only three investigators for the whole country, compared to the 250 previously employed by the ACU."

Both the ACC's under-resourcing and the SAPS' "scant engagement" with the unit suggested a lack of political will to resolve corruption, said Faull.

The number of complaints lodged with the ICD between 1997 and last year had increased steadily from 1999 to 5119.

Faull cautioned that this might have more to do with increased public awareness of the ICD than with a proportional rise in police misconduct.

He said low salaries and a "corrupting public" over-simplified the reasons for police corruption. On average, police officers earned more than firefighters, nurses or teachers.

"The SAPS has since 2002 lacked an applied corruption fighting strategy," Faull added.

SAPS spokesman Director Phuti Setati said he could not comment on the report until he had studied its contents.