POLICE stations across KZN are in crisis as experienced senior officers are handing in their badges and taking early retirement in fear of their pension funds being compromised should government plans to tap into the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) be implemented.
This, as well as police members cracking under the pressure of being overworked, underpaid and severely under-resourced, is causing the workforce to be at an all-time low.
Senior personnel told the ZO they are extremely concerned they may not receive their full pension package after retirement.
This comes after a proposal by government – rejected by most unions – to use the state pension fund to help bail out ailing state-owned entities (SoEs) such as Eskom.
As a precaution, seasoned officers say they are opting for early retirement. Currently, there are about 1 400 cases pending investigation and 1 900 outstanding court cases in the four Empangeni police clusters alone, an area ranked among the top 10 stations in the province for violent crimes.
"Some of us have served for around 30 years and have been stuck in the same position for decades despite being qualified. We are resigning now or opting for early retirement so we can take our packages before we lose our hard-earned money. In my case, I plan on taking early retirement so I get paid a portion of my salary monthly as well as my medical aid. I will then hopefully receive my remaining pension payout when I turn 60."
Another source said other factors adding fuel to the fire include demotivation, exhaustion and lack of appreciation.
"Hard-working officers are being overlooked for promotions and, despite having put in extra effort during lockdown, SAPS staff will not receive an annual bonus this year. We believe this is because more money is being spent on employing high-ranked officers such as generals and brigadiers around the province, who do almost nothing. As a result, officers on the ground have to struggle," the source said.
Police officers not part of the Vispol (Visible Policing) unit are no longer paid duty allowance or danger pay, while Vispol members receive up to R4/hr per night shift, depending on their rank.
One warrant officer said she currently receives R400 as danger pay and a paltry R2.90 per hour, per night shift.
"Does this mean our lives are worth R400 and that officers who die in the line of duty, die for R400? The money we receive for working night shifts is a disgrace. Imagine being paid only R98 extra at the end of the month for night shifts? Even call centre operators are paid more."
The Empangeni detective's branch has been without a branch commander for months, while only four commissioned officers oversee 50 staff.
Two commissioned officers are booked off – one who suffered a stroke, the other for stress.
This has forced some SAPS officers to engage in criminal activities such as taking part in robberies and theft as well as engaging in corrupt activities and taking bribes from crime offenders. Last week, CelebGossip.co.za reported that Midrand Police station was robbed and that CCTV was tempered with so that faces of the thieves would not be captured. The case is still under investigation.
Meanwhile, Richards Bay SAPS has not had a full-time station commander since March last year, with the station's phone lines still not operational for the second month running.
Speaking on the importance of maintaining emotional wellness, addressing fatigue, stress and the changing demands of life, LifeLine Zululand Director Michelle Jewlal said it was vital to continuously apply personal introspection and check in with one’s emotional state.
"It is understandable that frontline respondents who worked throughout the pandemic had to deliver services under intense conditions. The fear of contracting Covid-19 would have left them feeling overwhelmed, stressed and exhausted. Taking time out to seek help and speak to a professional about their experiences, thoughts and feelings is vital to dealing with life’s challenges.
"It is advisable that life-changing decisions such as leaving employment or taking an early retirement package should not be made without first undergoing an extensive internal process of introspection and research. Individuals must understand the financial, psychological and emotional impact their decision will have, and the ripple effect it will have on other areas of their lives and responsibilities.
"They should have an extensive plan in place to ensure they can maintain their standard of living, provide for hobbies and leisure with provision for future expenditures. Depending on age, having a structured plan for another job or business is crucial. Financial stability prevents further additional stress and instability in the home, and it is important to consider this when opting to make a major change."