30/05/2018 03:41 BST | Updated 30/05/2018 03:45 BST

An Audit Of SA's Criminal Justice System. Is It Falling Apart?

A series of cash-in-transit heists, a hijacking that left a nine-year-old girl dead, the Guptas getting an advantage in the courts — the past 10 days have again raised questions about SA's criminal justice system.

Micha? Chodyra via Getty Images

From a series of cash-in-transit heists and a hijacking that left a nine-year-old girl dead, to alleged state capturers getting an advantage in the courts — the past 10 days have once again raised questions about the South African criminal justice system.

On Monday, a decision by the High Court in Bloemfontein to lift the preservation order on R250-million worth of Gupta assets was accompanied by a scathing comment on the capability of the National Prosecuting Authority. The judge found that — based on the evidence presented to the court by the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) and the NPA — the prospect of a successful prosecution in the Estina dairy project case did not seem realistic.

READ: Gupta Judgment Shows How Deep In Crisis The NPA Finds Itself

On the same evening, scenes of chaos took place outside the Chatsworth police station, when police fired teargas and stun grenades at a crowd demanding justice after the death of nine-year-old Sadia Sukhraj, killed in a botched hijacking.

Last week, police launched a manhunt for a group of robbers who blew up a cash-in-transit van during a heist along the R38 road between Barberton and eManzana. This was the latest in a series of heists in Limpopo, the Johannesburg CBD and Boksburg.

All this — along with broader issues like violence against women, children and minorities, public and private sector corruption, political murders, farm attacks, state capture and more, much of which has gone unpunished — has many South Africans growing ever more cynical about our criminal justice system.

HuffPost spoke to experts in various fields, all of whom gave scathing opinions on the current state of law enforcement.

The Hawks

Former Hawks boss, Major-General Johan Booysen, said there is a lack of capacity in the organisation. However, he believes under the unit's new leadership, headed by Godfrey Lebeya, there is an opportunity for reform.

"It's a lack of capacity. A large number of people have resigned from the Hawks, going to the private sector or to general detective services. That happened as a direct result of the management issues in the Hawks. We are reaping the fruits of that now," he said.

"Although this is now the current state of affairs, we note the new appointments, and we have full confidence [Lebeya] will fulfil his mandate."

Police and Crime Intelligence

Institute for Security Studies researcher Gareth Newham said the police have not had a professional, trained officer running the organisation for the past 18 years.

"Every time you get a new national commissioner, they come in with a new set of priorities and their own ideas on how to do things. They restructure the organisation and move people around... There's been a serial crisis at top management in the SAPS. The organisation at the level where strategy needs to be developed — where the tone, approach, and model of policing is supposed to be developed and then pushed down into the organisation — that component, the senior management structure, has been completely in disarray," he said.

"Too many cops who are corrupt continue to work in the police; there's no clear accountability for wrongdoing in the police — and on the other hand, there are no proper systems for recognising, rewarding and promoting good officers. This leads to a dramatic decline in the morale of police."

Newham dismissed theories that the police are underfunded, saying that in the past five years, SAPS' budget has gone up by 50 percent.

"They have a R91-billion budget, 194,000 people and some of the best technology in the world ... but the systems to ensure a certain standard is upheld have collapsed ... Crime Intelligence has all but collapsed. There are still good people in there. But the problem was at senior management," he alleged. "People in Crime Intelligence, many of them are working with organised crime; they have been captured by organised criminals. And when your CI component is not only dysfunctional, but its capacity is being used to promote and support organised crime syndicates, then you have what we have."


The Institute for Security Studies found that in the NPA's annual report for 2016/2017, staff shortages, a halt on the recruitment of additional prosecutors and limited operational resources were some of the challenges the organisation faced.

In that financial year, the NPA lost 157 officials, and 239 critical positions stood vacant.

Former state prosecutor and now DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach said there is a lack of capable leadership at the organisation.

"The NPA has got no leadership to speak of ... There's a serious exodus of experience. We need to restructure the top management," she said.

Journalist and author Mandy Wiener said in South Africa, crime-fighting not only needs to be done, but must also seen to be done.

"The public perception of our criminal justice system is on a negative outlook. Confidence in the authorities is low. On the ground, we have excellent officers who are committed and passionate, but historically, the system has been compromised by years of hollowing out our criminal justice organisations," she said.

"We are seeing the results of the campaign to hollow out the criminal justice system. And criminals have therefore been able to get a foothold. It will take a long time for the capacity in these organisations to be restored."