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Assessing crime intelligence in South Africa

A report by the Inclusive Society Institute and the In Transformation Initiative

Copyright © 2020

Inclusive Society Institute

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South Africa


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In Transformation Initiative

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South Africa

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the Inclusive Society Institute


Views expressed in this report do not necessarily represent the views of the Inclusive Society Institute or the In Transformation Initiative or those of their respective Board or Council members.

Author: Daryl Swanepoel

Language editor: Olivia Main



Assessing the status quo

Why is SAPS crime intelligence not yielding adequate results?


Way forward



The Inclusive Society Institute and In Transformation Institute (ISI & ITI) have registered their serious concern with the high levels of crime in South Africa, the fact that a vast majority of the arrests do not result in court action, and the poor prosecution rates through the judicial system. They identified, as a serious concern, their impression that crime intelligence has broken down in the country and that it had become dysfunctional.

The institutes’ intuition was confirmed by the riots and looting, triggered by former President Jacob Zuma’s incarceration at Estcourt Prison for contempt of court charges, which, in mid-July 2021, ran wild in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. This resulted in more than 300 deaths, over R20 billion worth of infrastructure damage, and the loss of thousands of jobs (Aljazeera, 2021), setting back South Africa’s economic recovery from already strained levels as it battles to recover from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The state’s inability to foresee or forestall this frightening and destructive series of events that occurred on such a mammoth scale was a monumental failure [of the State Security Council (SSA) and Crime Intelligence] that defies explanation” (Araie, 2021). The breakdown was confirmed by South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, who confirmed that “the government had failed to meet the riots and violence with an adequate response, and [that] intelligence had failed them on the ground” (BusinessTech, 2021).

With this as background, the ISI and ITI held a workshop with experts from the security research fraternity to assess the state of crime intelligence in South Africa; and to consider interventions needed to restore effectiveness in South Africa’s crime intelligence capabilities.

The workshop considered whether the ISI and ITI’s intuition with regard to a breakdown in crime intelligence was indeed justified, the problems that were being experienced in the field, and what initiatives the institute could consider in assisting and giving advice and direction to improve the situation (Swanepoel, 2021; Meyer, 2021).

Assessing the status quo

There are two components to Crime Intelligence (CI), namely, operations and intelligence information management. The strategic objective is to:

  • prevent, combat and investigate crime.

  • evaluate, analyse and collate data.

  • submit intelligence to the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee (NICOC); and

  • institute counter-intelligence measures within the South African Police Services (SAPS).

In addition, they often work on police corruption, and they support international cooperation in the field of crime intelligence (Newham, 2021).

In terms of the availability of financial resources to carry out its mandate, the police budget has over the last decade (2011/12 to 2019/20), increased by 81 per cent, rising from R53,5 billion to R96,8 billion. And although CI forms only a small component of that budget (R4 billion), its proportional share has, over the same period, risen at a much higher rate (113 per cent) (Newham, 2021).

In terms of personnel, there are around 8,300 people working in the division. They are allocated across the country, mostly at station and provincial level, as well as a strong component at the national level (Newham, 2021).

This would indicate that, given the budget and capacity, potentially, there should be substantial intelligence gathered. But analyses of the SAPS annual reports show an alarming decline in performance. An assessment of network operations – which normally lasts between three to six months, and which is aimed at organised crime or criminal networks – shows a drop from 49,019 such operations in 2011/12 to a mere 859 in 2015/2016. It dropped even further to 311 in 2018/2019, whilst recovering slightly to around 700 last year in 2019/2020. Since 2016/17, CI has repeatedly changed their annual performance indicators so that it is not possible to obtain a clear understanding of performance trends since then. This in itself is of concern, as are the types of indicators used. They are output indicators, so it is not possible to assess the impact of the resources and work undertaken (Newham, 2021).

This points to a serious problem, as the work of crime intelligence, regardless of the performance indicators they choose to use, is supposed to guide policing in terms of visible and proactive policing, such as by identifying emerging trends, patterns, geographical hotspots and modus operandi. In addition, it is meant to aid reactive policing, like detective work, by providing insights as to how criminal networks operate to store, transport and distribute stolen and illicit goods or services, how money is laundered and where particular criminal suspects might be found (Newham, 2021).

In terms of proactive reports, about 4,500 were generated at national level in 2019/2020, most of which were operationalised, that is, contributing to some kind of policing operation. At provincial level there were around 14,000 such proactive reports of which some 11,000 were operationalised. And at cluster level there were 44,476 of which almost 39,554 were operationalised. In terms of reactive reports, 253,538 were generated in 2019/2020 of which 195,727 were operationalised (Newham, 2021).

The SAPS annual reports provide no additional information about what these statistics mean but given the deterioration in the police’s ability to reduce organised and violent crime, raises the question as to what value society is deriving from these reports. Certainly, there has been no improvement in the crime and public safety situation in the country. For example, last year, just under 20 per cent of the reported murder cases were solved – a drop of 38 per cent since 2011/12 and just under 17% of aggravated robberies were solved – a drop of 24 per cent since 2011/12. And over the same period murder increased by 37 per cent, and aggravated robberies increased by 43 per cent (Newham, 2021).

Why is SAPS crime intelligence not yielding adequate results?

Firstly, it is not only Crime Intelligence that is not performing well. Overall, most SAPS policing functions have deteriorated since 2012. The key reason was identified already in the National Development Plan, which spoke of a “serial crises of top management in the police”. Essentially, too many people were appointed to the top ranks of General or Brigadier for political rather than policing reasons. A former senior manager, who investigated the phenomena, suggested four categories of people that constitute CI, namely:

  • those who were appointed for political reasons primarily to act in the interests of the dominant faction of the governing party the ANC.

  • those whom they appoint to support their interests and control in CI (they could be family members, friends or those in their networks).

  • professional operatives that have gone rogue or just lost interest; and

  • a minority of highly motivated professionals who were trying to move the organisation to one in which their position became the dominant position in CI.

(Newham, 2021)

The difficulties with regard to the political interference started with the appointment of Richard Mdluli as SAPS National Head of Crime Intelligence by Jacob Zuma two months after he was sworn in as President in 2009. Mdluli himself was responsible for well over 200 appointments, many reportedly including family, friends and loyalists. Despite his history in the apartheid Security Branch, he expressed his loyalty to former President Zuma allegedly by playing a role in providing the so-called ‘spy tapes’ that were used to illegally withdraw corruption charges against Zuma, enabling him to rise to the presidency.

In addition to interference in the work of SAPS Crime Intelligence, Zuma made a number of appointments to the State Security Agency (SSA) also with the view of supporting his control of the ANC and the country. To understand the extent of the deterioration, the Mufamadi Committee of Inquiry into the State Security Agency, was appointed at the beginning of the Ramaphosa Presidency in 2018. This committee found:

  • That there had been a serious politicisation and factionalising of the intelligence community over the past decade or more. These factions were largely based on factions within the ruling party, resulting in an almost complete disregard for the Constitution, policy, legislation and other prescripts. It turned what should be a civilian intelligence community into a private resource to serve the political and personal interests of particular individuals.

  • A doctrinal shift away from the prescripts of the Constitution, the White Paper on Intelligence, and from the ‘human security’ philosophy, towards a much narrower, ‘state security’ orientation.

  • That the cumulative effect was the deliberate re-purposing of the SSA.

  • Excessive secrecy stifled effective accountability.

  • Abuse of resources.

  • Involvement of Ministers in operational matters.

(Anon., 2021)

Based on the findings, the committee recommended:

  • That a comprehensive review of the architecture of the South African security community (community-wide architecture) and legislation be done, which should include a review of intelligence coordination and the NICOC.

  • That the mandates of the intelligence departments, including crime intelligence, be refined, and that clearer and more focused definitions of mandates be developed.

  • That the national intelligence training and education capacity for the intelligence community be reviewed.

  • That South Africa’s intelligence doctrine, policies and prescripts, which should be oriented towards the Constitution, and based on the revised White Paper, be confirmed.

  • That options for and consequences of repealing the Security Services Special Account Act No. 81 of 1969, and the Secret Services Act, No. 56 of 1978, be explored.

(Anon., 2021)

Disappointingly, implementation of the recommendations has not progressed.

A further confusing dynamic developed around the question as to who heads CI. Indeed, the situation remains confusing, to the point that it is unclear, given the ongoing legal proceedings in which Peter Jacobs, who was appointed shortly after Cyril Ramphosa’s rise to the presidency to ‘fix’ this division, has successfully halted the irregular disciplinary proceedings against him that resulted in his re-deployment to another component in the SAPS. To outsiders it is unclear as to who is actually currently in charge of CI, nor who will be permanently appointed as the head of SAPS Crime Intelligence. All of which creates accountability issues (Anon., 2021).

Moreover, since the political dimensions within the intelligence community seem to run deep, it has become a complicated chess game, with serious consequences as a result. There are worrying suggestions that elements from outside the police may well be able to activate and deactivate elements of the intelligence community (Anon., 2021).

The leadership instability at CI is aptly demonstrated in the graphic below, which was published in the Daily Maverick on 13 July 2021 (Dolley, 2021).

The central question is why people would want to disable or manipulate crime intelligence, which has been going on for some time?

  • It is suggested that one purpose of making crime intelligence dysfunctional would be to undermine any attempt or likelihood of having successful investigations into high level corruption committed by senior politicians and officials in the state and their partners in the private sector. These have been clearly exposed by the Zondo Commission, but further evidence is required if successful prosecutions are to follow.

  • The second reason could be certain factions are motivated by attempts to gain control of the substantial resources, as alluded to earlier in this report, including for purposes of channelling monies from the Secret Service Account in Crime Intelligence for example, for political purposes.

  • A third reason could be to hollow out CI’s ability to predict, report or investigate political machinations and instigations behind, for example, the looting and unrest experiences in mid-July (Marais, 2021).

Apropos the intelligence failure of the looting and unrest: Whether it be attributable to the factional politics within the ruling party or not, whether it is simply the socio-economic needs that led to the opportunistic exploitation of the situation, or whether there was an element of organised crime involvement in the looting and vandalism, CI had a responsibility to know a lot more, and to analyse with much more clarity, than they did. As such, it was a spectacular failure, and no amount of blame-seeking can excuse it (Marais, 2021).

The failure also has to do with mandate interpretation of the various intelligence agencies and the propensity of people from the various agencies not wanting to work in multi-structure teams. The SSA would have been engaged, given the strong political motivation behind the unrest, and as well as CI, given the criminal motivation. Until the intelligence structures find a way to efficiently coordinate amongst themselves, crime intelligence will remain weak and dysfunctional. They need to find a way to form joint teams to work together, and to jointly investigate specific threats, in order to mitigate risk (Marais, 2021).


An analysis of the panel discussion leads the institutes to conclude that:

  • Financial and other resources appear not to be the inhibiting factor for the delivery of the timeous, accurate and effective intelligence information required to combat crime and civil unrest threats in the country. Actually, when considering the resources versus output, as has been illustrated in this report, performance of the period prior to 2011/12, CI should, in theory, be able to perform at higher levels than then. Fixing the crime intelligence dysfunctionality lies in matters other than finances.

  • One area of concern is what appears to be the widescale appointment of political associates, and nepotism. Not only has this neutralised operational efficacy, but it has also led to a force that lacks the requisite skills capacity to perform optimally.

  • There appears not to be a cohesive and strategic understanding at the executive level as how to fix the current dysfunction within the intelligence community. The spat between the police and intelligence ministers as to the timely provision of intelligence related to the July unrest is a prime example. In fact, the whole political dynamic within the intelligence community remains problematic, and the provision of timely and efficient intelligence will continue to deteriorate until such time that political leadership is given at the highest level. The two-year timelapse in implementing the recommendations of the Mufamadi Committee’s report is, for example, indefensible, since failure to act has proved to hold a serious real national security threat for the country.

  • The broader intelligence community, and CI in particular, is in dire need of reform. Key changes need to be made to ensure an increase in the functionality of the intelligence community. The National Security Advisor to the President, which post is currently vacant, could play a key role in driving such reform[1]. This position should be filled on an urgent basis with a person who he fully trusts and who has the ability to work over the boundaries of current factions and departments. In similar vein, the National Security Council’s role needs to be properly defined and its relevance as a key instrument in the crime intelligence arsenal settled.

  • There seems to be inadequate accountability, even at ministerial level. The squabbling within and between agencies and their inability to have timeously assessed the situation in the wake of former President Zuma’s incarceration, and to have advised the president, accordingly, is a manifestation thereof.

In the main the problem is not technical, it is political (Anon., 2021).

The underperformance and dysfunctionality within the intelligence services raises a number of questions that need answering:

  • To what extent do the findings of the Mufamadi Committee of Inquiry into the SSA remain relevant, with particular emphasis on those findings related to CI and its nexus with the SSA?

  • To what extent has the politicisation of CI undermined its capabilities and effectiveness, how deep has the contamination been and what steps are being taken to remedy the situation? In tandem, such an analysis should include an assessment as to the skills set of the unit and the extent to which the qualification requirements of CI were circumvented through the politicisation; and what should be done to remedy the situation.

  • Linked to the aforementioned, to what extent is the doctrine, policies and prescripts of the various intelligence agencies aligned to the Constitution, and where not, what amendments are needed to bring them in line?

  • Likewise, is the skills set and capabilities within CI sufficient for the task at hand; and are there indeed intelligence capacity shortages?

  • Are the mandates of the various intelligence agencies still fit for purpose, what cooperation mechanisms are in place, to what extent does information sharing between CI and the SSA take place, and how effective is such information sharing? And once again, how should this be remedied?

  • In the context of a top-heavy organisational structure, the organigram of CI needs to be assessed. The South African Police Service has around 200 Generals and 600 Brigadiers. The proliferation of chiefs leads to unnecessary duplication of functions and resultant turf battles. To what extent are the internal mêlées impacting the CI and the ability of SAPS operational components to process and act on intelligence received?

Way forward

The deep-rooted factional divisions within the crime intelligence environment and its politicisation, probably rules out any meaningful prospect of finding internal solutions and remedies to overcome the current dysfunctionality within CI; and to establish in its place a professionalised, capable, efficient, constitutionally inspired, human-orientated service. Such solutions and remedies will have to emanate from an external intervention, which presents its own challenges.

Given the security setting within which CI is located, and which by its very nature is wrapped in a veil of secrecy, it will be difficult for external advocates to, without sufficient executive mandate, penetrate the CI establishment. To this end, it is recommended that an independent review panel, comprised of security and intelligence experts from both within and outside of the public service, similar to the then Ministerial Defence Review Committee, be established by the President. Said panel should be mandated to seek answers and solutions to the questions posed in this report, together with others identified whilst engaging the broader security establishment during the process of developing the panel’s mandate. It will assess the continued relevance of the now three-year-old High-Level Review Panel on the State Security Agency report, whether progress has been made with its implementation and broader questions as identified during the dialogue.

In order to take the discussion forward, and to give further content to the recommendations contained in this report, the Inclusive Society Institute and In Transformation Institute will co-host a second, more broadly representative dialogue, which will have as its objective a deeper and more nuanced analysis of the status quo, from which:

  • The parameters and rules can be established within which the intelligence services of the country need to confine itself in order to be conducive to the behaviour expected within a constitutional and democratic state.

  • A draft comprehensive mandate for the proposed review panel can be expounded.

  • The process of reviewing the composition, structure and mandate of the intelligence establishment in South Africa can be defined.

  • Recommendations for the structuring and composition of the review panel can be developed; and

  • A proposed mandate for the review panel can be fleshed out.

The sobering events sparked by the recent imprisonment of former President Zuma has served as a timely reminder of the crucial role that the intelligence services of a nation play. It illustrated the devastating impact that a broken and dysfunctional intelligence service can have on the economy and general well-being of the nation.

We live in a fragile society. Time is of the essence. The necessary thing to do, is act now.


Aljazeera. 2021. South Africa unrest death toll jumps to more than 300. [Online] Available at: [accessed: 2 August 2021].

Anon. 2021. An independent consultant with extensive experience in policy and advocacy on policing, community safety and post-conflict reconstruction that participated in the Inclusive Society Institute / In Transformation Institute dialogue called to assess crime intelligence in South Africa, which was held on 19 July 2021.

Araie, F. 2021. Intelligence failure on co-ordinated insurrection will cost South Africa billions. [Online] Available at: [accessed: 2 August 2021].

BusinessTech. 2021. Government moves to stop ‘next phase’ of insurrection in South Africa: report. [Online] Available at: [accessed: 2 August 2021].

Dolley, C. 2021. Zuma’s legacy: The build-up to breaking down Crime Intelligence. [Online] Available at: [accessed: 13 July 2021].

Marais, N. 2021. Panellist at the Inclusive Society Institute / In Transformation Institute dialogue called to assess crime intelligence in South Africa held on 19 July 2021. Nel Marais is the founder of Thabiti, a specialised risk consultancy in South Africa.

Meyer, R. 2021. Convenor of the Inclusive Society Institute / In Transformation Institute dialogue called to assess crime intelligence in South Africa held on 19 July 2021. Roelf Meyer is a Director at In Transformation and a member of the Inclusive Society Institute’s Advisory Council.

Newham, G. 2021. Panellist at the Inclusive Society Institute / In Transformation Institute dialogue called to assess crime intelligence in South Africa held on 19 July 2021. Gareth Newham is the Head of the Justice and Violence Prevention Programme at the Institute for Security Studies.

Swanepoel, D.W. 2021. Panellist at the Inclusive Society Institute dialogue called to assess crime intelligence in South Africa held on 19 July 2021. Daryl Swanepoel is the Chief Executive Officer of the Inclusive Society Institute

[1] Subsequent to the drafting of this report, Dr Sydney Mufamadi was appointed on 5 August 2021 as the National Security Advisor. [2] The proposed panel’s mandate will be broader than that of the panel announced by President Ramaphosa on 5 August 2021, who were appointed to focus on a thorough and critical review of the preparedness and the shortcomings in its response to the recent lootings and riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng Provinces.

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This report has been published by the Inclusive Society Institute

The Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) is an autonomous and independent institution that functions independently from any other entity. It is founded for the purpose of supporting and further deepening multi-party democracy. The ISI’s work is motivated by its desire to achieve non-racialism, non-sexism, social justice and cohesion, economic development and equality in South Africa, through a value system that embodies the social and national democratic principles associated with a developmental state. It recognises that a well-functioning democracy requires well-functioning political formations that are suitably equipped and capacitated. It further acknowledges that South Africa is inextricably linked to the ever transforming and interdependent global world, which necessitates international and multilateral cooperation. As such, the ISI also seeks to achieve its ideals at a global level through cooperation with like-minded parties and organs of civil society who share its basic values. In South Africa, ISI’s ideological positioning is aligned with that of the current ruling party and others in broader society with similar ideals.

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