SHOOTING FROM THE LIP: National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole, left, new Police Minister Bheki Cele with his deputy Bongani Mkongi, centre, are seen together yesterday at the memorial service for the five officers killed in the Ngcobo police station shooting last week.
Newly appointed Police Minister Bheki Cele yesterday sent a clear message to criminals to be very scared because The General is back.

Cele has wasted no time and hit the ground running, presiding over his first assignment hours after his appointment.

Addressing mourners at the memorial service of five slain Ngcobo police officers in the Eastern Cape, the tough-talking minister declared war on criminals and called on law enforcement agents not to die while “having guns in their hands”.

Before Cele could make his address, mourners - who were largely police members - erupted into applause, with some chanting, “Bheki is back!”

The General told mourners that police were not funeral undertakers waiting to bury their colleagues.

“This must come to an end. Police exist to protect the society. We cannot be burying one another.”

He, however, warned police not to go rogue, but to invoke their constitutional right to protect themselves against criminals.

“The bottom line is that no criminal must wreak havoc on police and innocent people.

“Fight force with force. (In school) teachers get chalk to do their jobs, and in hospitals, doctors get stethoscopes. As police you have got guns - please protect yourselves,” said Cele to loud applause.

Police officers packed the Methodist church in Ngcobo to mourn five colleagues gunned down execution-style last week.

The General yesterday rushed to address his new colleagues before being sworn in as the new police minister.

The five officers and an off-duty soldier were killed in a bloody massacre at the Ngcobo police station last week when 20 assailants opened fire on them.

The attack, according to police, was orchestrated by Thandazile Mancoba from the controversial Seven Angels Ministries Church. Mancoba was among the seven people shot dead by police Special Task Force team members on Friday night.

Cele said: “This is not a church but a crime scene. This church will be an indefinite crime scene.”

He lauded the Special Task Force team, saying they must do the same thing again when facing dangerous criminals.

He added that the number of dead criminals was “too little” compared with what the gang did to the police officers.

Cele called on police management to profile all churches across the country.

“When we profile these churches, please do not ask why when we profile them.”

At the memorial service, grieving families of the slain police officers spoke of their loved ones.

Picture: Sithandiwe Velaphi

Nowinti Pongco, sister of Constable Nkosiphendule Pongco, 32, said her brother was the pillar of the family in their Mabomvini village of Ngqeleni.

“We are seven and he is number five. He was very helpful and you could see why he was a policeman. He died while making strides to build a big house at our home,” Nowinti said.

Julius Sidumo Mathetha, the uncle of Constable Kuhle Mathetha, said the 27-year-old loved being a cop. “We sent him to study IT in KZN but he came back saying he wanted to be a policeman.”

Nomabengu Ntsheku, Constable Zuko Ntsheku’s sister, said the 38-year-old was a loving person. “He smiled a lot and was very good at problem-solving.”

Phumzile Gabada, speaking on behalf of Warrant Officer Zuko Mbini’s family, said they were deeply traumatised by the 45-year-old’s death. “He did not deserve this,” said Gabada.

Zibonele Sandlana, the uncle of Constable Sibongiseni Sandlana, 32, said: “He had a loving heart and always prioritised his family.”

Ncedo Mpandeni, son of Corporal Freddy Mpandeni, said his dad was not a retired soldier but was off-duty when he was shot while investigating the shooting.