Police minister defends officers amid criticism of trigger-happy allegations

Police minister Bheki Cele has defended the country’s men in blue amid criticism that officers are trigger happy following the deaths of wanted criminals in KZN. Picture: SAPS

Police minister Bheki Cele has defended the country’s men in blue amid criticism that officers are trigger happy following the deaths of wanted criminals in KZN. Picture: SAPS

Published Apr 5, 2024


The national police minister has defended the country's men in blue amid accusations that police are using excessive force when dealing with suspects.

Minister Bheki Cele was addressing the community at an imbizo in Marianhill this week, after nine wanted suspects were killed in a shootout with police.

The suspects were wanted for a case in which they forced a woman to watch as they gang-raped a girl during a house robbery. The men were also linked to a spate of violent crimes in the Marianhill area and were suspected of planning a murder.

Only days before, four suspects were killed when police retaliated to their gunfire.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the imbizo, Cele said investigations will vindicate the officers.

He said when officers are involved in tracing and tracking suspects, they are shot at.

Cele said towards the end of 2023, a total of 22 police officers were killed.

"We have lost too many police (officers) because they themselves are targets. When we deal with suspected hardcore criminals, police must respond in a hard way, that corresponds with the kind of people they are dealing with," he told reporters.

He stated that the police are not simply trigger-happy and do not shoot anyone indiscriminately.

In KwaZulu-Natal alone, at least 30 suspects, including a cop killer and hitmen, have been killed in shootouts with police in the last three months.

United Democratic Movement (UDM) secretary general, Yongama Zigebe, said the country could be turning into the wild, wild west where criminals and law enforcement are more regularly engaging in shoot-outs and there is inherent risk to the lives of the bystanders and law enforcement officers themselves.

"If police escalate, criminals will escalate even further and we will have a vicious cycle," he said.

Zigebe added that more resources should be allocated towards destroying crime syndicates and physically breaking up their power bases; through such measures as forfeiture of property, crippling financial penalties, full victim compensation, and others.

"Overall, while law enforcement agencies have a duty to maintain public safety and apprehend suspected criminals, a hard-core reaction should be balanced with considerations of proportionality, legality, and the broader impact on community trust and social cohesion," he said.

Meanwhile, police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) is probing the shootings.

"The law allows the police to defend themselves and community members if they are faced with violent situations, but we, however, are aware of increasing number of suspects that are allegedly killed in the shootout with the police," said Ipid's Phaladi Shuping.

He explained that the increase in a number of reported cases has an impact on the speedy finalisation of investigations, because the more cases are reported to Ipid, the longer it takes for Ipid investigators to finalise them due to an increased workload.

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) president Thulani Ngwenya said police have always acted within the ambit of the law.

Speaking to The Star, he said police have a mandate to protect law-abiding citizens against unrelenting and dangerous criminals who continue to shoot at them.

This week, KZN police commissioner, Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi slammed residents in Bottlebrush in Chatsworth after two police vehicles were damaged. IOL reported that police were in pursuit of suspects when they came under attack.