By Sheree Russouw

Inspector Bennie Kganyago has spent most of his 20-year career in the police service grieving beside the cold bodies of fallen police officers and victims of crime.

On Friday he will join the bereaved family and colleagues of his dead partner, Johan Slabbert, when they bury the West Rand constable who died on Thursday night after a fatal shootout with armed robbers last Sunday.

"I spend most of my time in the morgue," said Kganyago, 38, when talking about the killing of police. "There is a lack of respect for police officers. Some criminals smoke so many drugs that they are not themselves when they commit a crime."

Slabbert, 22, and Kganyago, of the Roodepoort police, came under fire last Sunday when responding to a robbery-in-progress call. They arrived at the crime scene, where six armed men had robbed the Pick 'n Pay at the Princess Crossing shopping centre.

Four of the robbers fled, but two decided to also rob a nearby cellphone shop, where Slabbert and Kganyago surprised them, and a shootout ensued.

Slabbert was shot in the cheek. The bullet exited his body at the top of his spine. Kganyago sustained a flesh wound on the chin.

While her husband of just four months lay on life-support in the Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg this week, Slabbert's wife, Marieka, waited patiently at his bedside, watching as the young constable clung desperately to life.

On Wednesday, doctors gave up on Slabbert's prospects for recovery, and he died at 6pm on Thursday.

"He was the kindest guy I ever worked with. He was starting to get fluent in northern Sotho and was loved by the whole community," said Kganyago.

The Slabbert family are not alone in their grief - it seems their entire community of Grobler Park, west of Johannesburg, is mourning with them.

Johan's father, also named Johan, is the head of the crime prevention unit in Honeydew.

On Friday he said "hundreds" of people had visited his family offering condolences.

"Petrol attendants from our local garage wanted to visit Johan in hospital. The owner of a nearby Steers closed his shop when he heard Johan had died. It shows you how loved our son was by his community," he said.

Certificates, crowding the walls in the dead constable's townhouse, speak of his achievements in the police service. He was recently appointed sector police manager of "one of the most criminal hotspots in Roodepoort" - Horizon and Ontdekkers.

"Young constables like Johan are really making a difference," said Kobus Lategan of the Roodepoort police.

Johan senior said he had discouraged his son from becoming a police officer because of the inherent dangers of the job and the low pay.

"But he did it on his own - we knew we couldn't stop him from his dream. He always wanted to help people," he said.

Johan junior delivered newspapers so that he could save to buy his own car, and he and Marieka paid for their wedding. Marieka was too distraught to talk on Friday. She has lost her partner of six years and her best friend.

"Marieka and Johan had such a good relationship," said Marieka's mother, Petra. "They were soulmates." Johan junior's mother, Engela, described her son as being "too good for the earth".

"It feels like he will call home any minute. It feels like a dream, a bad dream. It will be hard after the funeral because only your memories are left, and they fade so quickly," she said.

Johan's sister, Erika, 16, smiled when she said she knew her brother was in heaven. "It breaks my heart to know that he won't see his next birthday or that he won't be there for my wedding.

I want my brother back. I just want to hold his hand. "But I know he is with the angels now - he was such a good person that God wants him up there with him."

Provincial police spokesperson Mary-Martins Engelbrecht said the SAPS was dismayed at "these ruthless attacks on our members. We will do everything in our power to bring these murderers to book.

"Not only are these members' families robbed of their loved ones, but the communities are deprived of a service to which they are entitled."

The four police officers who died in Gauteng this year:

  • Reservist Constable Stanley Mabusa, who was stationed at the Moroka police station, was shot while attending to a complaint in Soweto on February 5.

  • Constable Bhekimzi Gordon Hogana died after being assaulted by assailants who accosted him at his home in Protea Glen, Soweto, on March 8.

  • Abraham Mofokeng was off duty and fishing at a river near Soweto when he was attacked and killed on March 11. He died at the scene.

  • Constable Johan Slabbert was shot during an armed robbery at the Princess Crossing Shopping Centre. He died in hospital on Thursday.