Police in the Western Cape on Monday were able to render services without hindrance despite unprecedented levels of absenteeism, provincial management has said.
Nevertheless, those who "stayed away" were urged to return to work to "prevent this continued action from impacting on service delivery in future", spokesperson Novela Potelwa told News24.
Police Minister Bheki Cele confirmed that at least 400 police officers were protesting in the Western Cape and a further 120 in KwaZulu-Natal.
Western Cape community safety MEC Alan Winde said his office was working on confirming reports that at Claremont police station, only one staff member came to work, while over 70% of officers reportedly failed to pitch at Philippi, Nyanga and Khayelitsha police stations.
It was also being said that the police's senior management had been notified that junior officers were planning to take sick and/or family responsibility leave, or simply to go AWOL, as early as last week but no contingency plans were made, he charged in a statement.
Union members last week threatened to protest over long-overdue promotions.
Cele on Monday called on those participating to return to their posts as strikes involving essential services members were not legal.
Last week he conceded that promotions were five years overdue, but that the police had already administered 32 053 promotions in the current financial year.
Management to 'look into' abuse of sick leave
The minister confirmed that there was a backlog in the progression of employees from level 5 to level 7.
He said the decision to deal with the issue of promotions was not a "knee-jerk reaction" to threats of a strike but a decision that was communicated in a budget speech in Parliament in May last year, News24 reported.
Cele addressed hundreds of station commanders from across the country as well as national and provincial management in Centurion, Tshwane, on Monday regarding the issue of promotions.
Winde said station commanders should have remained in the province to address the widespread absenteeism and "serve the public who require protection from criminals".
National police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo said while an unusual amount of officers called in sick on Monday, it could not yet be confirmed to be part of a mass stay-away as each individual application had to be considered on its own merits.
Commanders have been advised to visit their ill members, and management would "look into it" if proof is found of sick leave being used as a tool to vent grievances, Naidoo told News24.
Policing had not been significantly affected by the absenteeism, he said, and there was no indication that this could escalate to include other provinces.
South African Policing Union secretary general Tumelo Mogodiseng on Monday told News24 that strike action for its members was a "no-no" as the service police rendered was an important one.