President Cyril Ramaphosa has led the annual commemoration in honour of police officers who were killed in the line of duty across South Africa.
Thirty-four police officers and reservists died in the line of duty between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023.
Addressing the sombre event at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Ramaphosa said there must be justice “and there will be justice” for the families of the fallen “heroes and heroines”.
“The hard work of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations, known as the Hawks, has resulted in the arrest of 76 suspected police murderers over the past year. These cases are currently before different courts,” he said.
A total of 488 suspects have been arrested for deaths of police officers since 2018.
“Through diligent investigative work, nine convicted police killers were handed down nine life sentences, a sum total of 158 years imprisonment.
“We must continue to arrest, prosecute and convict those who wilfully undermine the authority of State,” said Ramaphosa.
He said on Sunday, the slain police officers were were spouses, parents, sons and daughters, siblings, colleagues, and so much more.
Many of them were breadwinners, he added.
“Although the convictions of these criminals can never bring their loved ones back, it will comfort them knowing that justice has been served.
“Today, we pay tribute to our fallen officers for their selflessness and for the sacrifice they made in the act of proudly serving and protecting all people in South Africa,” said Ramaphosa.
“The nature of policing means that at times our men and women in blue are put in harm’s way. Despite this, policemen and women wake up each day to report for duty so that we can all sleep peacefully at night and our children can play freely in the streets.”
To keep the legacy of the “fallen 34 heroes and heroines” alive, Ramaphosa has called on all serving police officers to ensure that these deaths are not in vain.
“You must remain steadfast in the fight against crime,” said Ramaphosa.
“Minister Cele, I call upon you and the management of the South African Police Service to work together to ensure that police officers are safe while performing their duties.”
Ramaphosa also highlighted that “far too many” police officers are also dying while off duty.
“The SAPS management needs to deepen efforts to improve the wellness of officers. Police must be taken care of physically, mentally and psychologically,” he said.
“Communities need to speak out against police killings. The lives of police officers should be valued not just by their colleagues, but by everyone who lives in our country.”
Ironically, a National Traffic Officer was killed on Sunday, while another one is recovering in hospital following “a brutal attack” while the two were on duty in Joburg.
“The attack took place in the early hours of this (Sunday) morning when the officers, who were on duty near Diepsloot in Johannesburg, went to get food at a nearby filling station,” according to Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) spokesperson Simon Zwane.
It is believed that a crime was in progress when the officers unknowingly drove into the filling station.
“They came under fire from the criminals and one was fatally wounded and died on the scene,” said Zwane.
“A colleague suffered severe injuries and was airlifted to hospital where he is in critical condition.”
Last week, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) said better remuneration and improved living conditions for police officers could arrest the scourge of murder targeted at the law enforcement agents across South Africa.
IOL reported on Tuesday that at least 31 police officers were killed in the last three months, and that police management is deeply concerned about the trend.
South African Police Service (SAPS) national spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said: “A total of 31 police officers have died on and off duty in the past three months. The SAPS management is concerned by the ongoing killings and attacks on police officers.”
She said the police were urged not to hesitate to act, and that they must be extra vigilant.
Adding its voice to the discourse on police killings, Popcru says at least 52 police officers have been killed since the beginning of this year, and that has created anxiety among its members, the police officers.
Popcru spokesperson, Richard Mamabolo said police officers are killed for different reasons, which include robbery of their service firearms, or officers are killed while off-duty to silence them regarding ongoing or previous investigations.
He said better remuneration would ensure that the police officers are safe when they are off-duty.