Ngcobo - The attack this week by unknown gunmen on the Ngcobo police station in the Eastern Cape, in which five police officers and a retired soldier died, will remain as "one of the worst moments" of South Africa's democracy, Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said on Saturday.
Speaking in Ngcobo, Mbalula welcomed the "take-down" on Friday night of suspects allegedly involved in Wednesday night's attack on the police station.
"This tragedy will remain one of the worst moments of our democracy, where protectors of our democracy and people were under attack. What happened at Engcobo must never happen again in our republic," he said.
"I must thank the police for a job well done, they must continue to assert the authority of the state and affirm rule of law. Police arrested suspected criminals in a satanic place masquerading as a church. Our people must be vigilant and report these kinds of places. We urge our people to continue working with the police for a peaceful and prosperous South Africa," Mbalula said.
South African Police Service (SAPS) National Commissioner Lt-Gen Khehla John Sitole also applauded the "speedy take-down" of the suspects.
"I am extremely proud of the entire investigation team as well as the medium to high risk teams for their unwavering commitment to this case," Sitole said at the briefing at Ngcobo on Saturday.
"While I have welcomed the outcome of this tireless investigation, I feel that this is still little comfort for the families, relatives, and colleagues that are mourning the passing of Warrant Officer Sibongiseni Sandlana, Warrant Officer Zuko Mbini, Constables Kuhle Mathetha, Nkosiphendulo Pongco, and Zuko Ntsheku.
"I am also extremely overwhelmed and indeed grateful by the extreme condemnation of the killing of our officers as well as the continued support by all sectors of society via several media platforms,” Sitole said.
“Sixty-five hours ago our police station was under siege, but we made a decision that this is not going to happen in South Africa where the state will be undermined by criminals. We wanted our guns, to arrest, and to stop these criminals. We went to this church and explained and they shot at us twice. Little did they knot we had trained members. Before 30 minutes, seven of them went down. We continued and arrested 10 more... We recovered our [stolen] weapons too. The dignity of your police station has been restored and those who did that attack, they will never do it again," Sitole said.
Earlier, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) said seven suspects allegedly involved in the Ngcobo police station attack were shot dead during a shoot-out with a police special task force on Friday night.
The multi-disciplinary task team established to investigate the murders of five police officers and a retired soldier at Ngcobo made a major breakthrough when they fatally shot seven suspects in a shoot-out at the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministries Church at Nyanga village, the Hawks said.
Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said more than 10 other suspects were arrested while others managed to escape. One police officer was wounded and was recuperating in hospital.
The task team, which comprises of the Hawks, crime intelligence, the national intervention unit, and the tactical response team, followed up on information of a possible gang that was responsible for Wednesday night's attack on the police station.
“The group, which uses a church as a hiding place, was cornered inside the church premises. A gun battle between suspects and police ensued which left seven suspects dead and a task force member injured in the legs,” he said.
An unknown number of suspects managed to escape and police were searching for them. A number of firearms were confiscated, Mulaudzi said.
Five policemen from Ngcobo police station 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 from two policemen, who they then murdered. The police van was later found abandoned in a ditch off the road a few kilometres from the police 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 dead when the suspects fled the station.
It is understood that police are searching for those who escaped during the shoot-out on Friday night in caves in mountains behind the church premises in Nyanga village.
African News Agency/ANA