Categories: GovernmentNews
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2023-10-26 8:49 AM

SAPS Proposes, Withdraws Controversial Tattoo Policy for Police Recruitment

  • SAPS proposed and then withdrew amendments related to police officers having tattoos, following controversy sparked by the Police Minister's 2022 comments equating tattoos with criminal tendencies.
  • The proposed SAPS recruitment rules permit tattoos, but they must not be visible in uniform and should align with the police service's objectives. These conditions aim to maintain community trust and effectiveness.
  • The amendments also brought changes such as the removal of the requirement to avoid wearing religious or cultural symbols, revising the eligibility criteria for prior misconduct, and discussions around the age limit for recruits, all while upholding the requirement for recruits to be South African citizens.
By Miriam Matoma

In a surprising turn of events, the South African Police Service (SAPS) recently introduced and then hastily withdrew proposed amendments to the regulations governing the recruitment of new police officers in the country. These amendments aimed to provide clarity on the rules regarding police officers having tattoos, a topic that has stirred significant controversy. This decision follows Police Minister Bheki Cele’s controversial remarks in 2022, where he equated individuals with tattoos to gangsters and criminals, suggesting that they were unfit to serve in the SAPS.

The proposed amendments were gazetted on Monday, 23 October, but were swiftly withdrawn on Tuesday, leaving the public and potential recruits puzzled, as no official explanation was provided for the sudden change. The move is seen as an attempt to formalize and clarify the position of the SAPS on tattoos and recruitment.

Minister Cele’s comments in 2022 sparked outrage among people with tattoos, who took exception to being labeled as gangsters. This led to dashed dreams for hopeful police recruits who had inked skin, as their eligibility was called into question.

While Minister Cele later explained that his comments were rooted in the perceptions of the communities served by the SAPS, the proposed amendments were expected to solidify and detail the SAPS’s stance on the matter.

The key provisions in the proposed SAPS recruitment rules state that candidates can have tattoos, but with certain conditions. Firstly, any tattoo must not be visible when the candidate is dressed in uniform. Secondly, the nature of the tattoo itself should align with the objectives and image of the police service. This means that if a tattoo is not visible in uniform, it should still not be of a nature that contradicts the mission and values of the police service.

The SAPS emphasized that these rules apply to both recruits and reservists and are in line with the reasonable limitations placed on freedoms as enshrined in South Africa’s Bill of Rights, considering the unique nature of the police force’s duties.

According to the SAPS, visible tattoos have the potential to negatively affect the perception and neutrality of its members as seen by the community. It was further noted that the presence of tattoos can influence how members are perceived by the communities they serve, potentially impacting their ability to perform their duties effectively.

The SAPS also underlined the historical associations between tattoos and specific groups, often with negative connotations, such as former prisoners, gangsters, and motorcyclists. The SAPS argued that it cannot afford to risk having its members associated with any specific group in a manner that could be perceived as detrimental to others who do not belong to or associate with such groups.

The service stressed its commitment to providing effective and accessible services to every person and, therefore, takes into consideration the appearance of its members and how it may be perceived by the community.

In addition to the tattoo-related provisions, the proposed amendments introduced other changes to the recruitment rules. Notably, the requirement that SAPS members “undertake not to wear any religious or cultural adornment or symbol” was removed, a move welcomed by labor unions who had previously viewed this requirement as unconstitutional.

Furthermore, the rule that new recruits could not have been dismissed for any form of misconduct from their previous employer nor have any pending disciplinary case against them was amended. Now, this restriction is limited to misconduct related to dishonesty or violence, allowing individuals with minor infractions in their past to be eligible for recruitment.

Debate also surrounds the age of recruitment. The current proposal stipulates that new recruits must be between 18 and 30 years old to qualify. However, labor unions are advocating for this age limit to be increased to 35 to align with the definition of “youth” in the National Youth Development Agency Act.

Additionally, the SAPS is considering reintroducing the requirement that only South African citizens can qualify as recruits, citing the unique nature of the department as justification for discriminating against permanent residents.

While the proposed amendments have been met with mixed reactions, it is clear that the issue of tattoos in the police force remains a topic of ongoing debate and consideration. The SAPS’s decision to withdraw the amendments without a formal explanation leaves many questions unanswered, leaving room for further speculation and discussion among those interested in the intricacies of police recruitment in South Africa. As the nation grapples with these changes, the SAPS will continue to shape its recruitment policies to meet the evolving needs of its force and the communities it serves.

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Miriam Matoma

Miriam is a freelance writer, she covers economics and government news for Rateweb. You can contact her on: Email: miriam@rateweb.co.za Twitter: @MatomaMiriam