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Poor pay, trauma and lack of benefits among factors driving cops to suicide

Cops have been receiving R400 danger allowance since 2001

Unions representing thousands of SA Police Service members have shared with parliament the difficulties that the men and women in blue face. File photo.
Unions representing thousands of SA Police Service members have shared with parliament the difficulties that the men and women in blue face. File photo.
Image: Elvis Ntombela

Police trade unions on Wednesday laid bare the plight of their members who they say are unfairly compensated, overworked, traumatised and receive just a R400 “danger allowance”. 

These and several other issues are reportedly driving them to suicide, which police minister Bheki Cele in March said was happening at an alarming rate.   

An internal report presented at parliament's portfolio committee on police shows that within the police service since April 2019 there were 102 cases of individual suicide and 38 of homicide/suicide.  

These figures increased slightly in the 2021/2022 financial year compared to the previous two financial years. 

“This disturbing challenge has regrettably worsened to include femicide as it has been reported that numerous members have taken both their lives and the lives of their partners,” said Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union's (Popcru) Tryphina Phihlela.

“The same can deplorably be said with regards to the danger allowance which has been set at R400 since 2001,” she said. 

The ANC’s Prudence Marekwa slammed the danger allowance given to cops, saying it was unacceptable. She called for police  working conditions to be improved speedily.

“These conditions must be seriously addressed, especially the danger allowance. You cannot have people patrolling the highways of the country and being given R400.”

The unions shone the spotlight on horrific crime scenes which officers attend to, only to receive little or no psychological support.   

“Our members deployed to horrific crime scenes find themselves in almost perpetual agony that unfortunately affects their lives and their families,” said Phihlela.

The internal survey indicated that 43.12% of members agreed that they use the wellness services offered. However, psychological challenges among members remain rife, which suggested that there was an inefficiency with the provided services. 

Unions attributed the remuneration packages as a direct cause of demoralisation among personnel. In some instances, police received their overtime salaries late. Unions cited the 2021 July unrest in Gauteng and KZN where thousands of police were deployed. 

“Despite the meagre salaries they earn, our members would still be expected to work uncomfortable hours and not be fairly remunerated. [Sometimes] payment will be unreasonably delayed,” said Popcru. 

The South African Policing Union (Sapu) attributed the low morale to poor leadership, lack of resources and unsatisfactory working conditions. 

Sapu expressed confidence in newly appointed national police commissioner Gen Fannie Masemola’s ability to attend to the plight of employees.

“We are confident that he will address the operational needs of the SAPS. Just as important, is the urgent need to address a number of HR issues that have for too long been left on the back burner.”

Lt-Gen Lineo Ntshiea, divisional commissioner HR at SAPS, said there had been professionals including psychologists, social workers, occupational health practitioners and chaplains available 24 hours to all members and family members. 

She, however, admitted that it was difficult to cater for demand. “We admit that we do not have enough. There are only 621 nationally and they are supposed to give support to at least 180,000 members. We will try to increase this number,” she said. 

She echoed the sentiments expressed by unions that the nature of crime exposes police to gruesome and violent crime scenes which affect their mental health.

Unions also expressed concern at their members being overworked and the lack of career growth, with some officers remaining in the same positions for 10 years and more before being promoted.    

While Ntshiea confirmed that some members were leaving the police force as a result of low morale and other issues, she said about 10,000 police officers would soon be added to the force. 

She added that the wellbeing of their employees remained a priority and SAPS would endeavour to do whatever possible to put its members first. 

Deputy minister Cassel Mathale did not directly respond to the issues raised other than committing that they would be addressed timeously.

“It is in our interest and the interest of the country to ensure that SAPS functions at its optimum and we can only do so if we acknowledge weakness that are there. If we deny weaknesses we will never get it right,” he said.

The unions are demanding that the danger allowance be increased to R1,500 and that a reasonable uniform allowance be provided for all members.

MPs warned that if the issues at SAPS are not attended to speedily, more members would resign and criminality would skyrocket.


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