South Africa's Minister of Police Bheki Cele at memorial service at the Ngcobo Methodist Church, in the Eastern Cape. Picture: ANA

Ngcobo - Newly appointed Police Minister, Bheki Cele, on Tuesday told police officers to use their weapons and defend themselves against criminals.

Addressing the memorial service of five slain police officers at Ngcobo, in the Eastern Cape, Cele said the law allows police to use every applicable force when faced with a dangerous situation. 

"You are the ones that are protecting the community, you can not protect the community if you cannot defend yourselves. No criminal must bring terror to the community. Our job is to protect the community and I believe that they are also sad with what has happened," said Cele. 

"Part of the law is to defend innocent citizens of South Africa, if there are criminals and gangs that are killing people in the presence of police there's something wrong that we need to fix. We must hunt down criminals and not be the ones hunted by criminals," he said.

He said police officers burying their fallen colleagues must come to an end. 

"I refused for the leadership of police that is present here to be undertakers, to bury young people. If you bury 33-(year) and 30-(year) old how old are their children?" asked Cele.

He pledged support for the children of the fallen officers and said they must be afforded quality education.

Cele thanked the police for a job well done after confronting the suspects that attacked and killed five officers and an off-duty soldier.

"Please if you are called again do the same. Although this number is small, I'll accept."

He expressed concern at the possibility of churches hiding criminal activity and said the police will profile some churches. 

"Some churches are feeding people snakes. We are going to profile these churches, please don't regard us as being opposed to religion. We are not fighting churches but we want churches that are places of worship and not be used as smoke screen for other purposes like what happened here," said Cele.

Cele also thanked former police minister Fikile Mbalula for the sterling job. 

Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle also called on Cele and the police to build on a foundation that has been laid by Mbalula.

"We welcome the change in the police leadership but I want to thank the former police minister  (Mbalula) for his quick response after the incident. He was very dedicated to his work and was on the ground with the police. Some of the commitments he made should not be dismantled. After all its the same government but different face," said Masualle.

Warrant Officer Zuko Mbini, 45; Constable Zuku Ntsheku, 38; Constable Nkosiphendule Pongco, 32; Constable Sibongiseni Sodlana, 32; and Constable Kuhle Metete, 27, were killed on Wednesday night, by unknown gunmen who robbed the police station of 10 firearms and fled the scene with a police vehicle they hijacked. 

A retired soldier, 58-year-old Freddy Mpandeni, was also shot dead when the suspects fled the station.

At the weekend seven suspected police killers were cornered and shot dead when police task team swooped on them at their hideout at the controversial Mancoba Seven Angels Ministries. Five others were nabbed.

African News Agency/ANA