Police have been shooting civilians for ‘years’

2009-11-13 11:51

Jenny Irish-Quobosheane, the public’s representative in the police

department, told journalists in Parliament on Friday that the ministry had

noticed an increased number of shootings of civilians by police officers in the

past three years.

“Over the last three years the ministry has noticed an increased

number of shootings of civilians by police officers. So I don’t think you can

attribute those to what is being printed quite sensationally in the


Such reports increased sharply after government ministers told the

police to take a tougher line on dealing with criminals.

In a recent case, a police constable was arrested for allegedly

shooting dead three-year-old Atlegang Aphane in Midrand. The constable had

apparently mistaken a metal pipe the child was holding for a gun.

In a speech on Thursday, Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said

it was unavoidable that civilians would die in the crossfire between police and


“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 unavoidably. Yes. Shoot the bastards. Hard-nut to crack,

incorrigible criminals.”

Irish-Quobosheane said the ministry was strengthening the

Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) to deal with the shootings and effects

were already being seen. The officer arrested and denied bail for Aphane’s

murder was a case in point.

Separate legislation for the ICD to be introduced in the new year

would further strengthen it.

The directorate’s annual report released some months ago blamed the

shootings on, among others, poor training and jumpiness by the police due to

being regularly shot at.

President Jacob Zuma said the government planned to “expedite”

changes to Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act in a bid to “limit the

number of police killed by criminals“.

According to Section 49, if someone suspected of a serious 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 the act puts too heavy a discretionary burden on

the police.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who attended the briefing on Friday,

said Section 49 was being amended so there would be “no ambiguity” on how police

should behave themselves in situations where they may have to use force.

“People are trying to explain Section 49. Let’s wait until we get

wording that chief state law advisors are devising. That hopefully will be in

line with guidelines the Constitutional Court has indicated.

The procedures he said, “will be yardstick to police how to behave

under those trying circumstances”.

Deputy Justice Minister Andries Nel said the government “regrets”

the death of every innocent victim of crime.

“We are simply saying to the police, do your work,” he said.

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