Police Minister Bheki Cele's move to make the Anti-Gang Unit national has been welcomed after a troubled month for the Western Cape-based unit.
Cele announced this week that the AGU had been elevated to a national level, because "gangsterism is spreading across" the country.
He made this announcement in Parliament during the State of the Nation debate this week, a day after a community activist had raised concerns that the unit had been operating without a proper budget.
Earlier this month, six of the unit's members were shot near Philippi during a botched tracing operation. Following that, the unit's head, Major General Andre Lincoln, in a scathing letter, demanded the removal of some staff members because of a "trust breakdown".
Cele said the move would extend the unit's mandate and deal with "other crimes of fear". Other specialised units would also be introduced in response to the scourge of gangsterism.
As gang violence continues to claim the lives of civilians, there appears to be ongoing tension between the AGU and another operation, the Major Offences Reaction Team (MORT), that has ostensibly been depleting staff and resources from other stations.
Community activist Colin Arendse claimed in an email to Cele and national police commissioner Lieutenant General Khehla Sitole on Monday that the unit had not been allocated a budget since its inception in November last year.
He claimed MORT had removed 287 police members and 125 police vehicles from stations and specialised units across the province.
Arendse questioned why MORT had allegedly been operating with a budget of R1.1m per month for the past four months, even though it was "duplicating" the work of the AGU and other units and stations.
News24 asked Cele's spokesperson Reneilwe Serrero if the latest announcement by Cele was informed by these complaints.
Serrero said there were many reasons for the decision.
"The pattern [of gangsterism] has been recorded in high numbers in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Free State and some in Limpopo. The potential for growth is high, and gangsterism is a big contributor to the number of murders... the National AGU will spread its wings across [the country]."
She said Cele would provide more details of his plan during the SAPS budget vote early next month.
News24 also approached national police for comment on the AGU, MORT and budgeting claims. After a few days, the request was reverted back to Western Cape police.
'Not discussed with the media'
Provincial police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut said on Friday: "In response to your enquiry, kindly be advised that the Anti-Gang Unit and the Major Offences Reaction Team were both established as operational measures to address specific crimes in the Western Cape. However, the operational functioning of these units, such as the budget and the deployment of resources, is however regarded as operational information, and of a departmental nature which is not discussed with the media."
Arendse claimed that Sitole, and those operating under his command, had not allocated a personnel and salary sub-system (Persap) number to the AGU.
According to a technical indicators SA Police Service (SAPS) document, Persap is an in-house human resources/financial system that addresses the police's unique requirements to ensure "appropriate managerial and reporting capability on human resource and financial processes and procedures".
Arendse initially said he would lay charges against Sitole and other police officials "who have failed to uphold the oath of office you publicly undertook when receiving the Sword of Command".
'I would be extremely concerned'
On Friday, he told News24 that he hadn't had a change of heart but was waiting on legal advice regarding the most appropriate charges.
He welcomed Cele's announcement, saying Sitole "has no option but to give the AGU a Persap number".
"If I was the minister, I would be extremely concerned," he said.
"There needs to be a full investigation into this project MORT because it is a complete shambles. They don't know what is being done with their vehicles. Some of the members take those vehicles home," he claimed.
That took serious resources away from shifts, he said. "Don't be surprised if your neighbour rocks up with a vehicle," he joked.
As for the attack on the six AGU members, Western Cape police spokesperson Novela Potelwa said last week that Major General Oswald Reddy had been appointed to investigate "all issues pertaining to the attack".
"The investigation will also include recent allegations about some SAPS members that surfaced in media reports. It is requested that the investigation be allowed space to reach finality," she said.