Innocent deaths ‘unavoidable’: Mbalula

2009-11-12 13:19

It is unavoidable that innocent civilians will get shot in the

crossfire between police and criminals, Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula

said today, as he defended plans to give officers greater licence to use lethal


“In the course of any duty the innocent will be victimised,”

Mbalula told reporters in Parliament.

“In this particular situation where you are caught in combat with

criminals, innocent people are going to die not deliberately but in the exchange

of fire.

"They are going to be caught on the wrong side, not deliberately but


He said there had always been collateral damage in the fight

against crime and a recent spate of civilian deaths at police hands could not be

blamed on the ministry’s call for law enforcers to return fire when confronted

with dangerous criminals.

“We cannot say to the police, retreat. We cannot say to South

Africans, despair. Our job is to give people hope.

“Yes. Shoot the bastards.

Hard-nut to crack, incorrigible bastards".

Mbalula said the promised amendments to section 49 of the Criminal

Procedure Act would be tabled in Parliament next year, but would not amount to

an overhaul of the Act.

In essence, lawmakers would change the act “in terms of emphasis on

the word ’necessary’” to remove ambiguity in the law, the deputy minister said.

He gave no further details.

Section 49 states that if someone suspected to have

committed a serious or violent crime resists arrest, the police may “use such

force as may in the circumstances be reasonably necessary to overcome the

resistance or prevent the person concerned from fleeing“.

It also gives police the right to use lethal force if their lives

or those of innocent bystanders are in danger.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Mbalula and national commissioner

Bheki Cele have all suggested that the Act puts too heavy a discretionary burden

on the police.

Said Mbalula: The Act as it stands says they’ve got to make a

deliberation as to what is dangerous. That is why police are killed and are

dying like flies.”

Controversy about the planned amendments to a law that owes its

post-apartheid form to a Constitutional Court judgment mounted after the police

shot dead a toddler in Midrand on Saturday.

They mistook the metal pipe three-year-old Atlegang Aphane was

holding for a firearm.

The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation has said it

feared this and similar recent incidents were the result of “an overall

breakdown of control over the use of lethal force within the [SA Police


Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said there was little

leeway to change the act without falling foul of the constitution.

He said that regardless of any change of wording, the police would

always have to make split second decisions on whether it was justified to use

lethal force.

“Those decisions can only be good decisions if the police are

properly trained. So I think they are trying to change the law instead of fixing

a bigger problem which is that we need real police training.”

Mbalula also said gave no inch in the bitter spat that broke out

between him and Kader Asmal when the former minister said calls to militarise

the police were “craziness“.

Mbalula said there was “nothing crazy” about building a better

police force and accused Asmal of being sensationally alarmist and projecting

himself as “a reservoir of absolute wisdom“.

He said Asmal could not cope with former president Thabo Mbeki’s

defeat in the battle for control of the ANC and shrugged off reports that the

Human Rights Commission of SA planned to investigate a hate speech complaint

against him for calling the party veteran “a lunatic“.

“Far better things need to be investigated relating to human rights

than a cross debate.”

The deputy minister, who is reported to be locked in a power

struggle with Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, conceded that their relationship

was at times marked by disagreements and said he was nobody’s “ball boy”.

“I’m a deputy minister, but a deputy with substance.”

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