Police Minister Bheki Cele has urged both the public and law enforcement officers to work together amid allegations of brutality, saying 26 such cases were currently under investigation.
Speaking during a visit to Mahikeng in North West on Tuesday, Cele said the “law has to be enforced when people do things that endanger their lives”.
He said while at it, law enforcement officers were urged to be “as compassionate as they can”, emphasising the importance of “maximum partnership” between the two sides.
Cele explained that a private security officer as well as an Ekurhuleni metro police officer were arrested in connection with an incident of alleged police brutality in the area in which a person died.
He said in the second case in Cape Town where a man died, they were still awaiting postmortem results to clarify whether the deceased was shot or not.
Cele said there was a similar case in Limpopo with contradicting stories – one saying the deceased had collapsed and the other saying the person was shot. Standing next to Cele, National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole’s reaction suggested he was not happy with law enforcement having the spotlight.
“I see the impression; when they are brutal, they are visible but when doing policing they are not visible. Let’s try to balance our view and see them in all respect,” he said.
Law enforcement visibility to increase
Sitole said law enforcement visibility can be expected to be escalated.
“We’ve done maximum call up for reservists and we’re therefore going to see more visibility. Defence has also called reserve forces and we have to balance deployment in roadblocks and in townships,” he said.
Cele was asked why Mahikeng had suddenly experienced an increase in the visibility of law enforcement with roadblocks by police and army across the area on the day he was visiting the town. He said roadblocks on main roads were supposed to be there around the clock until the lockdown was lifted.
The minister further acknowledged that “some provinces were going to be slower than others”, adding that the lockdown and what led to it was an “unprecedented thing ever happen to South Africa which was new to all of us; the police and everybody else”.
In terms of compliance, Cele said they have been to four provinces so far and experienced things differently, adding that in some places like Mahikeng, “people know what to do but it seems they are doing what they are not supposed to”.
He said this calls for continuous “education on what is to be done and how as well as the significance of doing things correctly”.
Comply or face arrest
Cele announced that about 2 000 people were arrested nationally for contravening lockdown regulations which began five days ago.
While it was not clear which province was leading in terms of numbers of arrests, Cele was told by the North West police officials that the province was standing at 551 arrests.
Cele expressed concern at people he said were “using social media to do nonsense” as he cited the case in which a man was arrested for inciting the public not to observe lockdown regulations in a video that went viral.
He also spoke of another video in which a number of people were seen “insulting” Cele whom they blamed for the lockdown and not being to buy alcohol.
He said four people who appeared in that video have since been arrested.
“That other four were insulting a certain minister, calling that minister some really serious names … they were arrested and we will continue arresting them.”
Police not shifting focus on crime
Cele said the police have not lost focus on crime in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We’re not forgetting crime,” he said, citing the arrest of a suspect who was involved in an attempted cash-in-transit heist in which two Hawks officers were shot dead in Mahikeng earlier this month.
Hawks spokesperson, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, said that a “38-year-old suspect who was found in possession of a hijacked sedan was arrested on Monday in Rustenburg and is expected to appear at the Mahikeng Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday. The latest arrest brings to eight the number of suspects that have been arrested thus far.”
He added: “Out of the eight, three were fatally wounded, whilst five are behind bars including the latest suspect.”
Cele said they were still looking for more suspects. “There are five outstanding, well identified and we’ll be on the hunt for them. We are pushing both fronts; crime and the disease,” he said.