Durban - Twelve police officers have been killed since the start of the year.
The latest was a 54-year-old officer from Maphumulo who was killed during a business robbery on Friday. The gunmen fled the scene in a getaway car and the police captain later died in hospital.
Earlier this week, gunmen killed five policemen and a retired soldier at Ngcobo police station in the Eastern Cape.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula described the death of the police officers as a national tragedy.
The Ngcobo gang made off with 10 firearms in a police van which they hijacked from two policemen who they kidnapped and killed. The van was later found deserted in a ditch off the road a few kilometres from the station.
Policing expert Jean Steyn said attacks on police officers were attacks on the morality of society.
“It’s a sad day for South Africa that we have so many attacks on police officers and this should be neither condoned nor normalised.”
Steyn said that in the past 20 years an average of more than 160 police officers were killed a year, which was among the highest rates in the world.
On Friday, seven suspects allegedly involved in an attack were killed in a shootout with Eastern Cape police.
The heavily armed men used the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministries church in Nyanga village as their hideout. Yesterday, Mbalula shut the church.
The church is no stranger to controversy. It was exposed in the media two years ago for not allowing congregants to lead their own lives, compelling them to live on the church premises.
Children of the congregants were not allowed to go to school and their parents could not visit family without the church’s consent.
Eastern Cape safety and liaison MEC Weziwe Tikana said yesterday the children at the church had no birth certificates.
Police received a tip-off that the gang who gunned down police in Ngcobo was staying there.
A task team activated by the national police commissioner, General Khehla John Sitole, got to the church after 8pm.
While church leaders were being addressed, police were fired upon and an officer was wounded in the leg. The team returned fire and the ensuing gun battle lasted about half-an-hour.
Seven gang members were killed, three injured and 10 more were arrested. The injured were being treated at the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha under police guard.
Police recovered the guns stolen from the Ngcobo police station at the church.
Yesterday, Ngcobo residents threatened to burn down the premises. They claimed it had been a haven for criminals for years.
“Our livestock was being stolen and slaughtered at this church. We told them this church needed to be closed and they did not listen,” said a neighbour.
“When I heard the gunshots, I ducked for cover and told my children to do so too. The noise was scary,” said the neighbour.
The congregants have been moved to a place of safety. Authorities said they would be reunited with their families.
Mbalula said the church was found to be linked to a criminal syndicate that operated countrywide. “It’s a satanic church aligned to a criminal syndicate. We will close it. Please don’t burn it,” he urged people in the area.
He said they had planned to arrest the gang and had not wanted a shootout but praised the task team for their response, saying they deserved to be honoured and promoted.
Sitole said a plan was in place to upgrade the Ngcobo police station with modern technology. It was found that it did not have CCTV cameras.
A memorial service for the five slain officers and soldier will be held in Ngcobo’s Wesleyan Methodist Church on Tuesday.
Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa, who chairs the SA Council of Churches, said the incident was a tragedy and the council supported police in their investigations. “We have never heard of this church. They do not form a part of our body.
KZN acting provincial commissioner, Major-General Bheki Langa, condemned the police killings. “We will not rest until we apprehend the perpetrators,” he said.