Cele visits slain cops’ homes

2011-05-23 00:00

NATIONAL Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele led senior police officers to Creighton, in southern KwaZulu-Natal, on Friday to pay his respects to the distraught families of two police officers allegedly killed by an illegal tavern owner who was later arrested.

The emotional Cele first met traumatised police officers at Creighton police station and gave them a message of support. Their station commander, Captain Bongani Sydney Hlengwa, and Constable Zamikhaya Patrick Nhlangulela were shot dead at about 5 pm on Thursday. A third policeman, Sergeant Aron Siyabonga Gcaleka, escaped with a gunshot wound to the leg.

“The situation could have been worse, because it is clear that this man ran out of bullets. He intended to kill all eight police officers.

“The media should balance its reporting by also highlighting the way police are being killed,” Cele said.

“This brings the numbers of police officials murdered in KZN in less than five months to 11, which is totally unacceptable.”

Both deceased were shot in the head. Hlengwa collapsed and died at the doorway of the tavern while Nhlangulela died behind the counter.

On Friday morning police returned to the tavern to collect alcohol and locked the premises. Looking through broken windows, The Witness reporter saw fridges damaged by bullets.

The 67-year-old murder suspect is behind bars. He was arrested in the early hours of Friday morning after a long search. Police officers involved in the search said the “frail” man was running in the direction of Ixopo when he was apprehended.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Phindile Radebe said the man will appear in Ixopo Magistrate’s Court to face two counts of murder, attempted murder and illegal trading in alcohol.

The shooting happened when a group of eight police officers, who were in three vans, were confiscating alcohol from the suspect’s Ikhwezi Tavern.

Cele led a convoy of about 20 police vehicles to Hlengwa’s homestead in Mahhehle area. He later used a helicopter to visit Nhlangulela’s homestead in Bovini because the road to the area is in a bad condition. He also visited Gcaleka at Edendale Hospital.

Local residents told Cele that they want the old man to be denied bail and to “rot in prison”.

An Ixopo police warrant officer who was involved in tracking down the suspect said police established that one of the man’s sons tried to ferry him to Pietermaritzburg in a Toyota Quantum minibus taxi.

“However, when the son realised that we had formed roadblocks he dropped him off about two kilometres from Creighton where he was found running,” said the officer.

Eyewitnesses said that on the night of the murders police came to the tavern and apprehended a group of patrons and an assistant. They were taken to the police station.

“About 15 minutes later they returned and started to take alcohol out of the fridges. While they were busy the owner arrived, then we heard gunshots.

“As I was running across the street to the Total filling station I saw one of the police officers shooting towards the tavern while crawling towards the garage,” said a shocked witness.

Mduduzi Mkhize, who worked at the tavern, said the suspect arrived back from Pietermaritzburg where he had a meeting with his lawyer to prepare to obtain the necessary trading licence for the tavern. The suspect has tuckshops, and one of his sons is in the taxi industry.

“About two weeks ago Hlengwa warned the man to close down the tavern because it has no licence. The owner is said to have been working hard to obtain the licence.

“When he arrived, he asked the police why they were harassing his clients. Police demanded the licence. Then I heard the shooting,” said Mkhize.

He said the suspect had previously lost some teeth when he was allegedly assaulted by police for running the tavern in 2002.

“This man is old. He has just regained his sight after having cataracts removed from his eyes.”

NATIONAL Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele has labelled the escalating number of police officers being killed in the line of duty a “national crisis”.

“The rate at which our officers are being callously gunned down is extremely alarming,” he said, responding to the news that two police officers from Kraaifontein in the Western Cape were gunned down in the early hours of yesterday.

At around 1.10 am, Warrant Officer Gurswin Matthee (39) and Constable Cannon Cloete (23) were attending to a complaint when they were confronted at gunpoint.

“This attack is a clear indication that there are cold-blooded criminals out there who have no value or thought for human life and we must deal with them doggedly,” said Cele.

He called on communities to help police track down Matthee’s and Cloete’s killers.

“I have attended funerals of my police officers every weekend in the past four weeks and I cannot help but state that community outcry on the killing of our officers is seriously lacking.”

Cele urged the public to rally to support the prevention of similar attacks.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the ministry would ensure those responsible for the kililng of the officers would be punished accordingly.

“As the South African Police Force we are a family and … when one of us loses his or her life as cowardly as it has happened it pains all of us. We, however, urge our members to continue in fighting crime fearlessly all within the framework of the law …”

— Sapa.

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