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ZIZAMELE CEBEKHULU-MAKHAZA | Change to recruitment age limit will boost police

SAPS has been criticised for its top-heavy command structure

SAPS officers deploed for the 15th BRICS Summit parade.
SAPS officers deploed for the 15th BRICS Summit parade.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

In an attempt to curtail increased crime, the SA Police Service (SAPS) recently announced it will raise the recruitment age limit from 30 to 35 years for the 2024/2025 recruitment period.

This in hopes of increasing the number of police officers patrolling the streets – a number that sits at about 187,000. An additional 10,000 trainees will be upskilled to supplement the current cohort.

This announcement by deputy minister of police Cassel Mathalein Mdantsane, Eastern Cape, on August 5 provides a solution to more than just one issue. The SAPS has been criticised for its top-heavy command structure and low deployment of visible policing.

There have been other attempts to place more boots on the ground in the past. In 2021, visible policing was allocated 51% of the total policing budget to, inpart, boost numbers.

But, public sector budget cuts and union concerns over promotions and wage increases circumvented this. The decision to extend the recruitment age cut off point by five years is a positive step towards addressing chronic understaffing.

With depleted resources already crippling the SAPS, creating more opportunities for trainees to enter the service will go a long way towards alleviating the demand and bridging the gap in the police-to-population ratio. The ratio stands at one police officer for every 378 South Africans.

In some high-crime areas, this ratio becomes skewed, putting more strain on police officers. The SAPS will now be able to tap into a larger pool of potential candidates who have the skills, experience and maturity to serve as police officers.

This will also help to diversify the police service and reflect the demographics of our society. Moreover, it will provide an opportunity for unemployed youth who have been struggling to find decent work in the current economic climate.

With a crime index of 75.5, SA has the highest crime rate in Africa and is ranked as the fifth most dangerous country globally. This is a clear indication that the police service is struggling to meet its responsibility to prevent, combat and investigate crime.

Budgets within the SAPS are disproportionately being allocated to promotions instead of being funnelled into preventing and combating crime. In 2012, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) called on the SAPS to address the top-heavy structure and promotion policy.

Officers have been promoted within a few months of work, not based on skill but political affiliation. This has created more desk-bound officers than active-duty police maintaining law and order in the streets.

Raising the recruitment age alone is not enough to ensure that we have a well-trained, well-equipped and sufficiently motivated police service. We also need to address the low salaries, poor working conditions and inadequate resources. These affect the morale, performance and professionalism of our members and may undermine public trust.

Popcru will continue to work to achieve better wages and benefits, safer and healthier workplaces ,more vehicles and equipment, transparent recruitment and promotions, and greater accountability and oversight of the police.

■ Cebekhulu-Makhaza is presidentof the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union

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