PORT ELIZABETH - Being a police officer on South Africa's streets comes at a high risk and the value of a life can be as cheap as R400.
It is the sum commonly called danger pay South African Police Service (SAPS) members receive per month for risking their lives on a daily basis.
But police officers are now not only at risk when they are out in the field in the line of duty, when they are kicking down gangster's doors, going on high speed car chases, confiscating firearms or diffusing brawls at taverns.
These police men and women are now also at risk at the very police stations which are supposed to be safe zones, both for the police and the communities they serve.
One can no longer perceive automatic protection if you happen to live a few doors from a police station, because stations themselves have now become targets for South African criminals as was the case this week in the rural town of Ngcobo in the Eastern Cape.
This week a dark cloud of grief and shock hovered over the rural Eastern Cape town of Ngcobo when gunmen stormed a police station and brazenly took on police officers resulting in six casualties.
The Ngcobo five policemen were killed on Wednesday by unknown gunmen who robbed the police station of 10 firearms and fled the scene with a police vehicle they hijacked from two policemen, whom they kidnapped and murdered. The police van was later found deserted in a ditch, off the road a few kilometers from the station.
The five policeman were identified as Warrant Officer Zuko Mbini, 45, Constable Zuku Ntsheku, 38, Constable Nkosiphendule Pongco, 32, Constable Sibongiseni Sodlana, 32, and Constable Kuhle Metete, 27.
A retired soldier, 58-year-old Freddy Mpandeni was also shot and killed when the suspects fled the station.
The motives for the killings have yet to be established. Following the blood bath and community outcry SAPS formed a task team made up of detectives, the Hawks and air wing which would offer support in hunting down the gunmen. Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula visited the station the same day together with government officials, and police top brass.
A prayer session was held and Mbalula put members on a deadline to track down the suspects within 72 hours.
On Thursday, Eastern Cape Police Commissioner General Liziwe Ntshinga visited the families of the slain cops offering her condolences.
There were conflicting reports emerging on whether police had made arrests but SAPS later issued a statement saying that they would not be commenting on the investigation until such time there was something meaningful to release to the public.
Police spokesperson Captain Khaya Tonjeni said police would not dispute reports that four suspects were taken in for questioning but going forward they would not be commenting on the investigation of the case.
"At this stage we can say we understand the anxiety experienced by the people of South Africa on the progress on the recent incident and case investigation. We are also aware of the speculation and false reports on social media and mainstream media and we would want to get the facts," Tonjeni said.
"Ever since the Task Team was formed, a lot of ground has been covered and a lot of progress achieved. There is some great support from the public in different ways on different platforms. We earlier confirmed there are people that have been taken in for questioning. This is standard procedure during the process of any investigations. People will be questioned and this will not be done differently in this case."
On Thursday, the atmosphere at the Ngcobo Police Station remained tense as community members paraded and sang songs calling on Minister Mbalula to give them permission to shoot criminals.
Increased attacks on police officers in South Africa has prompted a call for speedy intervention. This week a Parliamentary Committee urged the SAPS to urgently address security at police stations.
"The South African Police Service (SAPS) should urgently address this matter to ensure the protection of its members, both on and off duty," said Committee Chairperson Simphiwe Mthimunye.
According to statistics provided by Parliament, 57 police officers were killed in 2016/17. Mthimunye blamed poor enforcement of gun control laws for the increase in police killing. He cited 2016/17 crime statistics as saying that 18 to 21 murders are committed daily with guns.
"The SAPS must therefore ensure effective implementation of the Firearms Control Act of 2000, tighten firearms control measures and root out fraud and corruption among police officials in the gun licencing process to prevent the loss, theft and sale to criminals of legal confiscated and surrendered guns," Mthimunye said.
African News Agency/ANA