Criminals 'don't do warning shots'
Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma threatened criminals with a shoot-to-kill policy on Tuesday, re-igniting the debate on the rights of criminals in a country where 50 people are murdered every day.
"Criminals don't take an oath to do warning shots," Zuma told 1 000 police station commanders at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria.
"If you take a gun out [on] me, that intent is more than clear, the next thing the criminal is going to shoot at me. That intent is very clear.
"My thinking is once a criminal takes out their gun the intent is clear... police must then act to protect themselves and innocents."
Backing for amendment to crime law
Zuma expressed support for the amendment to Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act that will give the police leeway to shoot in dangerous situations.
"We have an abnormal criminal problem in South Africa. We must therefore apply extraordinary measures," he said.
Zuma was accompanied by Police Chief Bheki Cele, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and Ministers in the Presidency Trevor Manuel and Collins Chabane.
All nine provincial premiers and safety MECs also attended the event, that started with an hour-long address by Zuma, after which he held private discussions with the station commanders.
Mthethwa said station commanders complained that criminals enjoyed too many rights, and that the president said this needed to be debated.
Mthethwa said the issues discussed included possible changes to the ranking system, a new appraisal system, better partnerships with communities and improving the criminal justice system.
"Too many rights for criminals... it’s what we feel ourselves. Many a provincial commissioner [has] raised an issue inside here about how they are failed the justice system," said Mthethwa.
"Here is a person who has a right like anybody... he has killed, why do you still consider that person as a normal human being who has to enjoy rights like others? It's a debate that's ongoing."
Radebe said the amendment of the legislation would be in line with the Constitution.
"We have prepared a draft which we have shared with the department of the police and they are giving their comments."
The draft provided "one vision and one mission" for the entire criminal justice system, as well as measurement targets for the system.
"You can't measure the performance of the police in isolation from the conviction rate."
The reforms would also look at bail for repeat offenders and whether criminals arrested a third time should be granted bail.
Radebe and Mthethwa assured citizens that South Africa was not returning to a police state.
"These are the safeguards to protect ordinary citizens against rampant criminals," Radebe said.
Flaws in judicial system
A police captain, who asked not to be named, told Sapa after the meeting that it was "fruitful and empowering" to talk to the president.
She also complained about flaws in the judicial system.
She said that often when the police arrested a criminal, courts granted bail. It was the community's perception that the police had released the criminal.
To win back confidence, there was a need to review laws regulating the police and courts, so that the police would be able to explain why a person was granted bail, other than saying, "it was a matter for the court to decide".
"The meeting was an opportunity to highlight to the present strained relationship between the community and the police," she said.