The South African Police Service (SAPS) management in the Western Cape hasn’t done anything to tackle the communication system crisis that is leaving critical first response units in SAPS, like the anti-gang units and the Flying Squad, exposed and isolated in their efforts to protect the vulnerable in the raging gang wars in the province. The main reason for the collapse, Action Society has learned, is the fact that the radios that SAPS members are using were issued in the 1980s, and while some of them have been refurbished over the years, the system is collapsing completely.
“In 2009, Gauteng was issued new trunking radios of the Tetra system, giving them immense communication capabilities. The same cannot be said for the Western Cape. Fourteen years have passed, and the police officers that have to go out in the most dangerous areas in South Africa are doing so without communication because their system is stuck in the 80’s,” says Ian Cameron, Director of Community Safety at Action Society.
With the return of loadshedding after the World Cup, the situation has deteriorated even further. “Areas like Khayelitsha already have bad cell phone signals. During loadshedding, with the cell towers off, communications go dark. Imagine finding yourself in a volatile situation where bullets are flying around you and being unable to call for help – because your radio is a dead brick and your phone has no signal. Would you be willing to work in those conditions?”
Action Society was approached by various members of different units who confirmed that they have requested, escalated and followed up on this crisis for the past few years. “The question is: How seriously do the police commissioners, the minister and so-called leaders take the lives of good cops? This week, Police Minister Bheki Cele complained that they couldn’t keep up with appointing new recruits because of an ‘exodus of experienced officers’. It is not hard to imagine why. As a society, we need good cops in our communities, and we must speak up for them.”