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At the Central Executive Committee held on the 27th to the 30th of November at the Birchwood Hotel, Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) President Zizamele Cebekhulu-Makhaza has hailed the union’s many accomplishments as an example of the importance of collective bargaining, but warned of significant challenges ahead as local police face rising pressure.

Speaking on the 33rd anniversary of POPCRU’s inception under the theme of 33 Years Of Working Class Consciousness Defending Workers’ Rights And Building A Self-Sustainable Union, the first and oldest union representing employees within South Africa’s criminal justice cluster, Cebekhulu-Makhaza noted that the organisation has achieved numerous successes in defending the rights of its members and creating a unified, professional police service.

POPCRU was founded in November 1989 in response to the horrifying conditions seen within South Africa’s police services under the apartheid regime. At the time, police services were still racially segregated, to the extent that black and white police officers were given different uniforms, and black police officers were not allowed to arrest white citizens. Likewise, black officers working outside of Bantustans were unable to receive promotions above the level of lieutenant colonel, he explained.

“By organising police and correctional service members and giving them a powerful collective voice, I am proud to say that POPCRU has helped to create unified services, restoring the dignity of black police and correctional officers and abolishing racism within service ranks,” he said.

“Over the past 26 years, during my tenure as president, I am also proud to report that POPCRU has secured vital benefits for our members such as bursary and funeral scheme provisions, legal representation, improved remuneration and psychological support.”

As a result, the union’s work has been lauded globally as a leading example of the achievements possible through sound labour relations, and POPCRU has been invited to share its experiences in developing sound collective bargaining processes and structures at several international symposiums. These include symposiums in Lesotho in 2006, Botswana in 2009, and Zambia in 2013.

Additionally, the union’s membership has grown substantially from just a few founding members to one of the largest trade unions in the country supported by over 160,000 individuals.


Looking ahead, however, Cebekhulu-Makhaza stated that significant challenges remain as a severe lack of financial resources and poor working conditions are placing police and correctional service officers at risk, jeopardising the safety of all South Africans.

“Over the past few years, budget cuts, poor infrastructure, a lack of resources and training, and staff shortages have reached crisis levels, and are preventing our members from performing their work effectively,” he said.

For example, according to the 2022/23 SAPS annual performance plan, its staff compliment has decreased from 199,345 employees in 2011/12 to just 182,126 employees at the end of the 2020/2021 financial year. The greatest declines were seen in capacity at the police station level, where human resources decreased by 14.3% between April 2012 and July 2021, and currently hold just 43.4% of ideal personnel demand requirements, or four in ten of the officers needed.

By contrast, latest statistics from the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) reveal that the number of active employed security officers has increased by 43% since 2010 to reach over 557,277 – nearly triple the number of SAPS members.

“High levels of crime and social unrest have seen growing demand for policing, and the state cannot be allowed to abdicate its responsibility for providing this as a mandatory service in favour of promoting private policing and security services,” said Cebekhulu-Makhaza.

“Not only will this further entrench inequality and make safety a luxury for the rich, but private security officers are not trained and qualified in key areas such as mediating with communities and understanding South Africans’ human rights and responsibilities.”

In addition to more state support, further interventions are also needed to improve police visibility and activity on the ground, he added.

“To improve the effectivity of our police service, police resources must be properly directed to where they will have the most impact. This means that SAPS needs to redeploy officers from desk positions in head and provincial offices to the police station level to increase the number of boots on the ground. Additionally, there are technological solutions that must also be employed as one of the resources to fight crime.”

“All levels of government, civil society and community organisations also need to work more closely together to help address the root causes of crime and increase focus on crime prevention, rather than making safety and security the sole responsibility of the SAPS or correctional services.”

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