Anger at police memorial

2008-09-03 00:00

MEC for Community Safety and Liaison Bheki Cele yesterday urged police “not to die with guns in their pockets”, but to “shoot hard” and shoot to kill when defending themselves against criminals.

“We cannot train good officers to fill the cemetery. Police officers must ensure that they protect themselves and put criminals behind bars or to the nearest mortuary,” Cele said.

He was reacting to reports of two separate incidents in which police were involved in deadly shootouts with criminals.

During the early hours of yesterday morning, a suspected cop killer was shot and killed by police. On Tuesday night, a senior Durban policeman was killed in the line of duty in kwaMashu, and in another incident, a suspected cop killer was gunned down by police near kwaDukuza.

Lee Buthelezi (28), a suspect wanted in connection with the murder of KZN “super cop” Superintendent Zethembe Chonco, was killed as police swooped on his hideout in KwaDukuza.

Buthelezi was allegedly one of the men involved in the killing of Chonco, who was shot in an ambush in KwaMaphumulo last week.

It is alleged that as police entered the room in which Buthelezi was hiding, he pulled out a 9 mm pistol. “This resulted in police officials opening fire on him. The suspect was fatally wounded,” said police spokesman Superintendent Jay Naicker.

According to Naicker, Buthelezi was also wanted in connection with a taxi violence-related murder that Chonco was investigating.

Naicker said Buthelezi is believed to be a hitman who operated in the kwaMaphumulo area.

Other suspects wanted in connection with Chonco’s murder are still at large, but police said they are closing in on the remaining suspects.

In the other incident, Superintendent Frans Bothma and his team were conducting an operation in kwaMashu on Tuesday night when they spotted suspicious-looking men seated in a black VW Polo.

Police spokesman Superintendent Jay Naicker said Bothma and his two colleagues immediately turned around and pulled up behind the suspects’ vehicle.

“All three policemen approached the suspects’ vehicle and noticed three suspects in the vehicle. The policemen instructed the occupants to get out of the vehicle,” he said.

Naicker said that while the policemen were talking to the driver, one of the suspects alighted from the vehicle and opened fire.

“Policemen returned fire and the suspects fled in their vehicle. As the dust settled, the two policemen discovered that Superintendent Bothma was fatally wounded,” he said.

Bothma was shot in the head. Paramedics tried to resuscitate him at the scene but he was declared dead.

His colleagues were still in shock yesterday over his sudden death.

He worked for the police service for the past 26 years and was stationed at the Inanda police station. He was also part of the provincial task team.

Close friend and colleague Superintendent Leon Matthysen described Bothma’s death as huge loss to the police service.

“He would always tell you to keep going even when you were down. The way he handled junior members was amazing,” he said.

Matthysen said that Bothma was a good leader with exceptional communication skills.

“He could relate to anyone, to a senior member of staff and to a beggar on the street. He just had a way of reaching out to others,” he said.

The suspects were still at large yesterday.

Anyone that has information that may assist in the investigation into Bothma’s murder is asked to contact Captain Keith Hodget at 082 556 4360. A R200 000 reward is being offered for information on this case.

The Police and Prisoner’s Civil Rights Union said it was “very disturbed” by the recent killings and urged police officers to “use all means” to protect themselves against criminals.

“The country cannot be safe when police are being attacked and murdered. We cannot say that our members should only fire warning shots when they are being attacked with AK47s and other high-calibre weaponry used by criminals. We are saying that police use maximum force when defending themselves,” Popcru spokesman, Benzi ka-Soko told The Witness yesterday.

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