The public must refrain from being “armchair critics” when it comes to how the police deal with protests, Gauteng acting commissioner Lt-Gen Lesetja Mothiba said on Wednesday.
“The South African public must realise what is confronting the members (police) on a daily situation while dealing with these issues of protest marches and demonstrations,” he told reporters in Johannesburg.
“These are not petty things, these are not issues that you can say 'go read a book... and it will tell you how to deal with these issues'.”
Police officers had to use their experience daily and apply their discretion, said Mothiba.
He said the police always tried to make sure minimum force was used and that there was no loss of life.
“I want to call upon the public not to be armchair critics and to try and place themselves into the shoes of the members.
“And I can tell you, if you can try to do that you will realise that it's not easy,” said Mothiba.
Last month in Gauteng, a man was shot, allegedly by police, after residents protesting over housing barricaded roads with stones and burning tyres in Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg,.
Four police officers were arrested.
Mothiba said Gauteng police had dealt with 569 protest marches in the last three months, of which 122 were violent.
“Places like Khutsong, Bekkersdal, Roodepoort and now Bronkhorstspruit were heavily affected.”
Protesters in the Bronkhorstpruit area, east of Pretoria, set alight several buildings including a clinic on Wednesday.
Last week, violent service delivery protests erupted in the area. Protesters torched the Zithobeni satellite police station and municipal offices.
Residents have been protesting since Thursday about the high price of electricity.
Mothiba said 39 people would appear in the Bronkhorstspruit Magistrate's Court on Wednesday in connection with the violent protests.
“We condemn the community actions that we've seen the last few days [which] are pure criminality in the form of vandalism.”
The protests had stretched police resources to the limit, he said. - Sapa