Cops feared for their lives, says Riah Phiyega on protesters’ deaths

2014-01-30 08:19

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National police commissioner General Riah Phiyega has dismissed suggestions that she is in charge of a “trigger happy” police service.

According to her, police were under siege when they used live ammunition that resulted in the death of two people in Relela outside Tzaneen, in Limpopo, on Tuesday.

Phiyega said police who were manning a satellite police station were up against 1 500 protesters when the confrontation ensued.

She said protesters had tried to torch the station with petrol bombs. “[Protesters] were pelting police officers and the satellite station and, in response, police officers fired 2 050 rounds of rubber bullets as well as 36 stun grenades,” she said.

“Some protesters went into the station and nine of them were arrested during the commotion. Fearing for their lives, some police officers used live rounds resulting in death of the two people. Eleven police officers were injured and 19 police vehicles were damaged.”

Phiyega came face to face with the angry protesters in Relela yesterday, who asked her to tell them who had ordered the police to shoot and kill.

She told them that an investigation was under way to determine whether prescripts were followed. Phiyega told the media earlier that her officers did not immediately start firing live ammunition, saying it was only when there was a “dire need” that they resorted to using live bullets.

The Relela community have been taking to the streets since Saturday, following the discovery of the body of 20-year-old Kgomotso Ragolane. Her body was found by a passer-by with her hand missing, and her cellphone and house keys placed inside her cut-open stomach.

Police said they took two “young men” in for questioning on Saturday and while busy with them, protesters went out and set fire to their homes. The pair was questioned and released after they could not be linked to the murder.

A 15-year-old teen, Tshepo Baloyi, was hit by a bullet and died on Saturday after police intervened and tried to disperse protesters who were allegedly on their way to burn down a third house.

Police said another suspect was taken in for questioning on Sunday and was still in custody after he was linked to an unrelated case of the rape of a 13-year-old in December.

Phiyega said protesters then pounced on the satellite police station on Tuesday, where a confrontation took place, resulting in the deaths of two people.

Schooling and services have been affected in Relela since the protests started. Phiyega said this would not be allowed.

“We shall be here to ensure that public order and stability is restored. We shall not flinch when we have to ensure peace and order,” she said.

Later on, protesters would not hear any of it when Phiyega tried to explain to them that police were investigating Ragolane’s death and that cops were also being investigated for the killing of three community members.

Protesters angrily addressed Phiyega, telling her that Ragolane will not be buried until her hand had been found and that those allegedly killed by the police would not be buried until she had said who has given out orders for the fatal shootings.

Others said they were not going to halt their protest action until those arrested had been released and Ragolane’s killers arrested.

Meanwhile, black ash from burning tyres as well as rubble – rocks and tree trunks – could be seen in the area.

Police said they were going to maintain high visibility across Relela and neighbouring villages overnight while engagements with protesters were expected to continue today.

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