Police Minister Bheki Cele has urged the police to protect themselves against violent criminals who have declared a war against them.
Cele was speaking during his address at the 10th Popcru National Conference under way at the Durban ICC.
“When you find a war, you must not ask questions. You must respond first and once the dust has settled, only then can you start to ask questions. These criminals have declared a war against the police. Two weeks ago, I was at the funeral of a member of the National Investigative Unit (NIU). He was killed by criminals,” Cele told more than 1 000 Popcru delegates on Tuesday.
Cele’s address comes just when reports have suggested that KwaZulu-Natal, and the city of Durban, has become the hotspot of police killings as well as incidents of wanton police brutality after at least 19 people died at the hands of the police in the past 30 days.
The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) wants tougher action to be meted out against criminals who shoot and kill members of the police following an increase in police killings in the country.
Popcru said the number of police officers killed since the beginning of 2023 stood at 13, while several suffered career-threatening injuries or were left disabled. The police union said the apparent targeting of police officers while they were on or off duty should be taken seriously light as law enforcement officers increasingly lived in fear of their lives.
This week, Independent Media reported that there had been a spike in incidents of police shoot-outs with suspected criminals, especially in Durban.
In the latest incident, which took place last Monday, it was reported that police shot dead five suspects at eZintombini, in Bester, Inanda in a joint operation by the police who raided a house suspected of being a criminals’ den.
It is alleged that when the police approached the house, occupants opened fire on them, leading to an exchange of gunfire. Police recovered four firearms and ammunition.
This incident was preceded by another operation in which police shot dead a traditional healer in eThwalenye, Inanda.
According to media reports, the traditional healer was suspected of harbouring and giving muti to criminals.
It is these incidents that have angered Popcru, with its spokesperson, Richard Mamabolo, saying the police were mandated to act against such incidents of violence against themselves.
“The police are mandated to protect citizens and prevent crime, a threat against them is a threat against the safety of all South Africans, and a treasonous threat to our constitutional democracy.
“Treason can be defined as the unlawful act of violating or endangering the security of the state. And by this definition, killing police officers, rejecting the rule of law, and working against the security of our state is most certainly a treasonous act. It should be considered treasonous, and harsher sentences… should be implemented,” Mamabolo said.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) said it was concerned about the high number of suspected criminals being killed by the police.
In the past month, police in KwaZulu-Natal shot and killed at least 19 people in seven incidents.
In the same period, one police officer was killed, and two wounded.
Reports indicate that the killings are concentrated in the northern townships of Durban, such as Inanda and KwaMashu, where drugs and gangsterism affect many communities.
Ipid spokesperson Robbie Raburabu said that whether the police were justified in their actions, an investigation still needed to be conducted.
“We all remember where we come from as a country – the atrocities that police have committed, in particular against black people, during that period of apartheid.
“So, this is… why Ipid had to be formed to actually look at the role of the police when dealing with members of the public.”
Ipid said all seven shootings were being investigated.