Police Minister Bheki Cele says policing during the Covid-19 pandemic has “come at a cost” to the South African Police Service (SAPS), saying 5 000 officers became infected and 36 lost their lives.
Cele was addressing SA Police Service members during a virtual broadcast on Friday morning.
“I am addressing you as a police minister who is appreciative of the hard work you have put in over the past three months,” Cele told officers.
“I am also concerned about your safety and well-being during the Covid-19 [pandemic]. However, I remain encouraged by your resilience.
“Armed with your masks, gloves hand sanitisers and other protective gear, the SAPS rose to the occasion. You left the comforts of your homes and went out into the eye of the storm when the public heeded [President Cyril Ramaphosa’s] call to stay at home,” Cele said.
To date, the police have manned more than 14 000 roadblocks, maintained high visibility and patrols on beaches, at taxi ranks, markets, malls, main streets and other areas of potential mass gatherings, to ensure social distancing.
But, said Cele, policing during the pandemic came at a cost.
“The virus has infected over 5 000 SAPS members, resulting in the decontamination of hundreds of police stations across the country. Sadly, Covid-19 has claimed the lives of 36 members,” the minister said.
“Through the provincial and national steering committees set up in response to the pandemic, we will continue to ensure all SAPS officers have the necessary tools of trade while on duty.
‘You are not alone’
“Members, if you test positive, be reminded that you are not alone!” Cele said.
“Virtual psychological services and support will continue to be available to you as you self-isolate and recover.”
Cele added that he understood that it was becoming increasingly difficult to have a positive outlook on life.
“Remember, there is a 24/7 Covid-19 hotline in place to ensure continuous support to infected and affected SAPS members and their families.”
The SAPS Covid-19 hotline is manned by SAPS psychologists, occupational health experts, social workers, chaplains and legal experts. Frontline members were encouraged to use this hotline to get clarity on the implementation of lockdown regulations. The hotline can be reached by calling 0800 02 99 99.
In-house awareness programmes are also available for all police employees, Cele said. “Covid-19 is a second enemy of police officers – an invisible one. While the country is [in] lockdown, criminals are not going to ‘stay at home’. So, I call on all SAPS officers to decisively deal with both the armed and unarmed enemy.”
Gender-based violence a priority
Cele added that fighting gender-based violence must always remain a priority throughout Covid-19 and beyond.
“I want to thank officers for rendering effective services at police stations, especially to victims of domestic and gender-based violence.”
He encouraged officers to continue improving responses to crimes committed against women, children and all vulnerable groups.
“Handle victims who come to you with empathy. Investigate cases thoroughly, leave no stone unturned in bringing perpetrators to book.”
Cele said, unfortunately, there were a handful of officers who embarrassed the organisation by breaking the very rules they were meant to enforce.
“But the majority of you continue to serve your country with excellence and pride throughout this pandemic.
“While your role has always been important in defending the communities you serve. This time you have been sent on an extra mission to protect and serve with selfless patriotism and dedication in the fight against Covid-19,” Cele said.