By Staff Reporters

The controversial sacking of national police commissioner, Lt-General Khehla Sitole by President Cyril Ramaphosa might not have solved the country’s policing problem, says expert.

Ramaphosa fired Sitole with effect from the end of March. This comes weeks after a probe criticised the security force’s handling of an outbreak of civil unrest last year that claimed 354 lives.

A panel appointed by Ramaphosa to probe the violence criticised the police’s inadequate response and found that tensions between Sitole and Police Minister Bheki Cele were among the contributors.

The Presidency said Sithole’s contract was terminated by mutual agreement.

“President Ramaphosa and General Sitole have agreed that the early termination of the commissioner’s contract is in the best interests of the country,” it said.

There was no love lost between police minister Bheki Cele and Lt-General Khehla Sitole. Photo by

Policing and Security expert Ziyanda Stuurman says the government is getting it wrong, hence the perpetual police crises.

In an article headlined: “We Can’t Give The Police What We Don’t Have:

A Reflection On Policing In Contemporary South Africa,” Stuurman says the country needs a fundamental restructuring of the police service, along with societal change.

“The SAPS is in perpetual crisis. In what is often described as the most unequal country in the world, the police service that reformed from a police force with a long and brutal colonial and apartheid past, now struggles to prevent and investigate crime,” she writes.

She says a research and analysis by Lizette Lancaster of the Institute for Security Studies, the SAPS’ ability to solve murders has declined by 38% in the past decade since 2011/2012, with the result that between 2019 and 2020, detectives were only able to solve 19 out of every 100 murders.

In real numbers, that means police were only able to solve 19% of the 21,325 murders recorded between 2019 and 2020.

Stuurman says the reform process within the SAPS – specifically between 1990 and 1998 – simultaneously excluded many former liberation militants and created a market for a network of former military operatives and officers to provide private security to compensate for where the police were now failing.

In explicit terms, that failure was acutely perceived among the white middle class and private businesses, as a police force that once served a minority – in 1994, 76% of all police resources were allocated to policing the White population – was becoming a police service that had to ensure safety and security for the majority of South Africa’s Black, poor, and working-class citizens.

“These societal and institutional changes led to new forms of violence, the growth of private security firms and the proliferation of small arms,” she says.

“In recent years, security experts and activists working to ensure the equitable distribution of police resources across the country’s informal settlements and suburbs agree that not enough has been done to ensure that police are deployed and given the resources to do their jobs where they are needed most.”

These were the issues that Sitole was expected to address.

On his appointment, he was hailed as the correct man for the job given his long experience as police officer.

The commissioner’s experience in the police service and his long record of service were seen as the big difference between him and his predecessor Riah Phiyega’s.

Sitole, the sixth national commissioner, joined the police service in 1986 and was the first permanent national commissioner since the suspension of Phiyega in 2015.

He is the first career police officer to be appointed since General George Fivaz stepped down in 2000.

Stuurman makes a poignant observation when she says: “To put it simply, South Africans cannot give the police what we do not have.

“We do not trust them, we think they are corrupt and we are losing faith in the police and many of our public institutions to live up to their mandates, as detailed in the latest round of Afrobarometer public opinion surveys.”

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