National police commissioner General Bheki Cele has called on officers to use maximum force in the war against criminals.
Speaking at the funerals yesterday of slain Kraaifontein police officers Warrant Officer Gershwin Matthee and Student Constable Cannon Cloete, Cele said: “We are not calling for you to be dogs of war or to be wayward. Do your job. But if someone makes it difficult for you to do that job to a point where your life is in danger, use the tools we have given you. Defend yourself.”
He said that, according to law, police officers were allowed to use “maximum force” in such situations. He also urged them to be “decisive” in their actions when defending themselves.
Matthee, 39, and Cloete, 23, were gunned down while on patrol last Sunday and their firearms were stolen. A Khayelitsha man, Sivuyile Songovana, 23, appeared in court on Friday in connection with the murders, but the police are adamant he was not acting alone.
To applause from the congregation at Cloete’s funeral, Cele said the police had been dragged into a “war” because so many policemen had been slain.
A few days before Matthee and Cloete were murdered, two KwaZulu-Natal officers were killed in a shooting in Creighton.
Cele said this had been the fifth Saturday in a row that he had attended the funerals of police officers.
“The youth are at war. You can’t have 23-year-olds killing 23-year-olds; that is a crisis,” said Cele, referring to Songovana’s arrest.
“Almost seven police have been killed in the months since January. It’s a crisis.”
Cloete, who’d barely begun his career, would have become a fully fledged constable on July 12.
Rows of police officers, friends and family packed the church hall in Kraaifontein, forcing some mourners to stand in the back and line the walls.
Cloete’s uncle, Robbie Robertson, said he had had a great love for his family and community. “He had a passion for his work and he was proud, especially when he was in his blue uniform,” he said.
Pienaar said: “Although he was young, he left a legacy behind, and that is the commitment he had to change the life and community in Kraaifontein.”
While the police fraternity bid farewell to Cloete, they also mourned the loss of an established policeman yesterday.
Matthee’s funeral was the first of the day and the Church of St Andrew in Northpine – only about 1km from where Cloete’s service would be held – was barely big enough for the mourners. Among them were Western Cape police commissioner Arno Lamoer and provincial MEC for Community Safety Albert Fritz.
Captain Nikolas Pienaar, the two officers’ immediate commander, said Matthee’s service to the community, as well as his commitment to training younger police officers, had been outstanding.
“He served the community with dignity. He was a good person to work with, and he was a warrant officer I and the police station could depend on.”
Thomas Matthee said his brother had made it his life’s quest to serve and protect his community.
“He could make one laugh and be happy and he always saw the lighter side of things.”