15/10/2013.Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa responds to a question during the first SAPS summit on suicide prevention held at St. Georges Hotel. Picture: Masi Losi

Pretoria - South Africans need to deal with the violent nature of interactions before blaming police for brutality during protests.

This is according to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who said on Friday police sometimes have to defend themselves against violent community members.

Officers have been deployed to violent protests across the country and at least six people have died.

This week, two men were killed in Relela outside Tzaneen where protests over witchcraft erupted last week after the mutilated body of a 20-year-old woman was discovered. Fifteen officers were injured and 19 police cars were damaged.

“There is a problem with police and if we do not address it we will have a ticking time bomb on our hands. The threat of violence is great and at some point our conscience needs to speak to us as a nation. The police are an easy target but the truth must be told. Imagine yourself as a police officer in the epoch of violence,” said Mthethwa.

“Violence has to be denounced. Some of these protests are suspect. They have nothing to do with service delivery but with witchcraft. Police cannot solve witchcraft or political squabbles. If we continue to allow these criminals to reign, we will all go on a slippery slope and become victims. Not everyone has the community’s interests at heart.”

Mthethwa said police were under attack from the criminals.

“In Zithobeni in Bronkhorstspruit, I am told the people burnt the municipal offices and then went to burn the satellite police station.

“We have never had such a massive spate of violence in the country, where a small group of police find themselves under siege and surrounded by a vicious angry mob.

“When there is brutality against police, it is not called brutality. When the police defend themselves it is called police brutality,” he said.

The Dangerous Weapons Act came into effect this month prohibiting the carrying of firearms, knives, spears, axes, knobkieries, crowbars, hammers and nunchakus at protests.Mthethwa said last year there were about 13 000 protests and 1 882 turned violent.

He admitted that sometimes police were wrong in attacking protesters and in those cases action was taken against them.

Last week, an officer was held after Tshepo Babuseng died in protests in Durban Deep, Roodepoort.

In Mothutlung, Brits, where four people died in protests over water, Mthethwa admitted police used the wrong ammunition. Three people died and one was fatally wounded on January 13, during protests about water services. Two of the people were allegedly shot by the police, a third died in a fall from a moving police vehicle, while the fourth, who was shot in the head, died in hospital.

Mthethwa said live ammunition was not used. He said police used SSG 12-gauge rounds that contain pellets. They were actually discontinued in 2006 and are used for target practice.

He said organisers of protests are supposed to be held accountable for violence but admitted that it was hard to prosecute them.

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