Newly appointed police minister Bheki Cele has hit the ground running calling on police to use whatever maximum force is at their disposal to defend themselves and protect the community against criminals.
Cele was speaking in Ngcobo this afternoon at the memorial service of the five police officers who were ambushed by a gang last week.
During the memorial service Cele said the police force was not a burial society and that he wants to see incidents of police killing in the country coming to an end.
“We give police tools of defending themselves. We are not encouraging police to be rogues but at the same time we don’t train them to come here and be killed, but to serve and help the communities. So, the direction is that police will work hard to protect the communities. If it’s a preventative protection, it’s even better so that you don’t come after the event has happened. That is the direction we are going to take,” Cele said, adding that police would now have to redouble their efforts in fighting crime.
He said the law was clear that police should defend themselves whenever they are under attack.
“The law says a police officer is supposed to protect themselves and those around him and use whatever force is at his disposal. I am not the one who is saying this, it is the law that police use whatever force they have, and if needs be, use deadly force. There is only one meaning of deadly, and it’s there in the law,” he said.
Cele also called on the police to always apply the law whenever they were doing their work.
The new minister also praised former minister Fikile Mbalula on his leadership of the police ministry and applauded the officers who fought a 30 minute gun battle with the attackers of the police station in a local church they had been using as a hideout.
The shootout saw seven suspects gunned down by a police task team led by the task force, national intervention unit, tactical response unit, the Hawks and many others.
“If you are called upon to do the same, please by all means do it,” he said.
On the Mancoba Seven Angels Church being shut down, where police shot and killed seven suspects and arrested 11 during a shootout last week, Cele said that the church was still regarded as a crime scene.
“What we have there is a crime scene. There is no church there, the place is part of the police investigation. Police will advise if they think these people might regroup and comeback and do the same thing. We are not going to allow those things. We will allow the investigation to inform us as to which direction we are taking. But I want to repeat we don’t have a church there but a crime scene,” he said.
At least three of the suspects were killed in the shootout at the church, which has been described by many as a cult.
Asked how he felt about being appointed as police minister, Cele said: “The appointment is not about me, maybe the person who appointed me has seen something in me and is better placed to answer the question. But I have been given the job and my job is to do the job.”
Cele said police are going to work harder and improve on the areas where they are weak.
“Training of the police as they are trained is part of it. We also need better working relation with the police and communities. National [police] commissioner Khehla Sithole is a specialist with social and youth mobilisation. Once that has happened 50% of the crime is gone. We will encourage those things, that police and community work together as a family, but also the criminal justice system must help us. Things like bail must not be easy. People must understand that there are consequences,” Cele said.
He said police would work on their weaknesses in ensuring that similar incidents such as the attack on police officers are detected and prevented, these include weaknesses in crime intelligence.
“Criminals, it doesn’t matter who they are, would find it very tough to deal with the police come the next time,” he said.
Premier Phumulo Masualle said what was happening at the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministries should not be referred as a church.
“It is not a church. We must not drag through the mud the name of churches. What is happening there is not what we are used to in churches. We are saying, enough is enough. People should not abuse their rights. A church that prohibits children from going to school is not a church. We are going to use whatever means we have in law to make sure that we destroy and shut down what is happening in that so called church,” Masualle said.