South Africa

South Africa’s detective crisis – only 6.8% mass murder conviction rate

South Africa has less than 18,000 detectives across the country, as the South African Police Service (SAPS) has lost over 8,000 detectives since 2017.

It was revealed in Parliament last week that South Africa’s detectives have declined from around 26,000 in 2016 down to 17,600 in 2023.

DA MP Andrew Whitfield told eNCA that this crisis must be urgently addressed. 

“We have a crisis in SAPS, and the implications of that crisis for the Police Service and the South African public, more importantly, cannot be underestimated,” he said.

“Our detectives are some of our most highly skilled police officers who are required to ensure that investigations are conducted properly, effectively, and efficiently.”

“This is to make sure that we collect all the correct evidence, that the evidence is prosecutable in court, and that the NPA has a strong case to work with.”

He said this loss of skills in the Police Service can be seen in the country’s conviction rates, for which detectives are crucial.

For example, there have been 2,446 incidences of mass murder in the country since 2019.

Of the 2,446 incidents, only 1,511 individuals were arrested, with those accused presented before the courts.

Of the 1,511 people arrested and charged, only 103 were convicted for the murders – representing a conviction rate of only 6.8%. 

DA MP Andrew Whitfield

Whitfield said it is critical that South Africa drills down to the reasons why detectives are leaving SAPS in such numbers since it is not only a crisis for the Polie Service but for the country’s criminal justice system.

“The goal is to ensure that there are consequences for criminals – that when we lock them up, they are locked up according to the sentence they’re supposed to serve because of good detective work,” he said. 

“Unfortunately, we just don’t have that at the moment.”

He said SAPS is trying to fill the vacancies with new trainees, but they lack the necessary skills.

“They are forcing senior police officers onto early retirement. You cannot put a price on experience, and the skills in detective services are accumulated over several years,” he explained.

“It’s not just the vacancies that need to be filled; it’s the missing institutional memory which we’ve lost in the South African Police Service as a result of this horrific attrition of skills and memory, institutional memory, and experience, and that is the nub of it.”

He said the National Police Commissioner has mentioned that SAPS is trying to reenlist some detectives to train and upskill those new trainees.

However, SAPS has only reenlisted 68 detectives, which is “just a drop in the ocean when you’ve lost so many thousands over the last six years”.

“The experience and skills that we’ve lost need to come back to pass that on to a new generation of detectives,” he said.

“It’s not just about how many detectives we have; that is critical, but it is also about the quality of our detective skills. So, training is an urgent priority.”

National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola

He explained that if there are no consequences for criminals, they will continue to operate with impunity and with increasing confidence. 

By improving the country’s conviction rate, criminals will start to feel that there will be consequences for their criminal actions. 

He said that, currently, criminals feel emboldened by a criminal justice system that has been stripped of critical skills.

“The skills deficit within SAPS is something that needs to be absolutely urgently prioritized and dealt with,” he said. 

“Unfortunately, we’re now facing more budget cuts as the country runs out of money. Critical service delivery departments like SAPS are going to have to chop their budgets by about 10%, which is almost R10 billion for the South African Police Service.”

“Specialized skills training is absolutely critical, reenlisting lost skills as far as possible, and bringing those back for training purposes. Then, we need to make sure that we root out the corruption in SAPS and reward those police officers who deserve the promotions.”


Top JSE indices