Shoot-to-kill SAPS hide behind rent-a-cops

2008-12-20 00:00

“Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?” Mae West’s old line has become the dictum by which the South African Police Service operates.

But the cops are not waiting to find out whether you indeed have a .45 Magnum in your pocket or if the manly bulge merely means that you are blessedly well endowed. In South Africa, virility can be the death of one.

Despite the outrage it caused among human rights groups, the Safety and Security deputy-minister’s controversial call earlier this year for the police to “kill the bastards” has found fertile ground. There have been an astonishing number of alleged baddies shot while supposedly reaching for a gun.

To a standing ovation, Susan Shabangu said at the time, “I won’t tolerate any pathetic excuses … You have been given guns, now use them.

“I want no warning shots. You have one shot and it must be a kill shot.”

The kill shot she demanded is being delivered with gusto. Suspects are not being wounded, but shot dead. This makes it a tad difficult to gainsay the SA Police Service authorised version of events.

It appears to be especially in KwaZulu-Natal that the cops run into the most intractable criminals. It must be a 100% Zulu boy thing.

In the past week alone, two men were shot dead by the police while reaching for their pockets. This brings to at least a dozen the number of men shot by SAPS officers in the province in the past couple of months.

Last Friday a man whom police describe as “one of our most feared criminals”, wanted for murder and robbery, was cornered in Durban. He drew a nine-millimetre pistol but the police were quicker on the trigger and the man died instantly of a gunshot to the head.

In another incident the inappropriately named Lucky Ntinga, wanted for hijackings and murder, was arrested and accompanied police to a house where he had said firearms were stashed. He then allegedly pushed officers aside and grabbed a gun hidden behind a flower pot. An officer opened fire and killed him.

At a notorious recent family slaying in Durban, both suspects were shot down in separate incidents, after being arrested and while supposedly going for a gun — the one a stashed firearm, the other in the holster of one of the cops. And of the gang who some months back allegedly ambushed and killed a Zululand police superintendent, six died from police bullets in four separate incidents, while “attempting to escape” or “resisting arrest”.

Also, a few weeks back, two heist suspects were shot dead by police during a home search in Melmoth. The men allegedly emerged from a room and began shooting. Police returned fire, killing them.

Interestingly, in this case too the men are implicated in an earlier killing of a police officer. The police claim they were part of a 16-man group who ambushed police in November last year while they were escorting a cash van to a pension pay point. The gang opened fire, killing two officers and wounding two others.

So, considering the enthusiasm with which the cops appear to be carrying out the deputy-minister’s instructions — and the generally poor aim and slow reactions of their opponents — it is puzzling then that the SAPS need rent-a-cop nannies.

A Democratic Alliance parliamentary question has elicited that last year half-a-billion rand of taxpayer money was paid to private security firms to protect police stations, government departments and courts. Given the stern words of Shabangu, one would think the SAPS would welcome any and every chance to go out with a bang.

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