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Pretoria - The escalation in public violence has put the police under siege, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said on Friday.
“We have never had such a massive spate of violence in the country, where a small group of police at a satellite station find themselves under siege and surrounded by a vicious angry mob,” Mthethwa told journalists in Pretoria.
“In those situations a water cannon would not work, in some instances police lose the battle and die in the line of duty.”
He said it was time the nation accepted that it was faced with a huge problem of violence.
“There are protests everywhere in the world, but never have we had such a spike of public violence in the country. We are sitting on a time-bomb and we all as a nation need to do something.
“Our consciousness must speak to us as a nation.”
Senior police officials responsible for public order policing held a conference in Pretoria, and were addressed by Mthethwa and national police commissioner Riah Phiyega.
Mthethwa said 13,000 protests took place across the country last year.
“At least 1,882 of these were violent but with minimal fatalities.
“When police brutality is directed at police, it is seldom brutality and the reporting is very selective... that should be condemned.”
He said police would act against its members who did not follow internal regulations.
A protest in Bronkhorstspruit earlier on Friday saw residents burning down a municipal building and a satellite police station, he said.
“Tshwane mayor (Kgosientso Ramokgopa) called me and said some residents had not paid their electricity bills, resulting in the discontinuation of power to some households... a building and a satellite police station were burnt by protesting residents.”
He blamed criminal elements within communities and said they should be isolated.
Harbouring criminals was not good for the country, and this would come back to haunt communities.
“If we continue to allow these criminals to reign, we will all go on a slippery slope and become victims. Not everyone out there has the community's interests at heart.”
A flare-up of community protests across the country has seen at least eight people killed in January alone, allegedly in the hands of the police.
“As a nation, collectively as organisers and police, we need to work together to prevent the repeat of the kind of clashes and events which we witnessed over these past months.
“It is our responsibility, both as individuals and as a nation, to ensure that protests take place in a peaceful and incident-free manner.”
Mthethwa called on communities to refrain from carrying dangerous weapons such as iron rods and spears during protests or strikes.