Cape Town - As police planned a massive search and arrest mission, a moment of silence was held by the colleagues of five police officers and a former soldier, who were killed after an attack at the Ngcobo police station, between Mthatha and Queenstown, on Wednesday.
"May their souls rest in peace and those that survived, may they recover and get well soon," East London Acting Cluster Commander Brigadier Mxolisi Mqotyana said at a meeting at the Duncan Village police station.
At a separate meeting in King William's Town, Brigadier Ngubelanga said: "May God be with their families, [the] SAPS family at large, and guide us in arresting the perpetrators and [bringing] them to justice."
The horrific shooting of the five police officers and one retired soldier took place early on Wednesday morning.
According to the police, the shooters entered the Ngcobo police station and opened fire.
"Three members were killed instantly in the community service centre," said Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo.
Shock and outrage
He said the retired soldier was shot dead as the suspects were fleeing.
Initially, it was thought that the soldier was still an active member, but that he was off-duty.
"The suspects made off with a police van, taking two other members. The bodies of both these members with gunshot wounds, were later found along the roadside, six kilometres from the police station."
The shootings have shocked and outraged people, with the chairperson of Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Police, Francois Beukman, saying the committee regarded it as a "national tragedy".
Beukman said that, in addition to the establishment of a high-level investigating team which is searching for the killers, the public must also share any knowledge that might help police catch the shooters.
The committee also insisted that counselling be provided for the families of the officers and asked for a full briefing on the shooting next week.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula called on police to keep a level head while investigating the murders.
"I call for calm from our members, as I am aware how emotional this horrific incident is. Today, I have instructed General Khehla Sitole to hunt those barbaric criminals and bring them to book. They must regret the day they sat and planned to attack the state," Mbalula said.
"These are very dangerous criminals. I urge people to remain vigilant and calm and report any possible suspicion to the police," Mbalula added.
The shooters also stole firearms.
The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union also urged the public to come forward with information that would help them catch the shooters.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) sent condolences to the families of those who were killed and urged investigators to consider the possibility that there may have been police among the shooters.
"Looking for the perpetrators must not avoid members of the SAPS themselves. It is possible that they too are involved, for it takes great courage to rob a police station. It may very well be that [they may have] worked in the stations before and are therefore not scared of it.
"We reiterate our condolences to the families and friends of the deceased, including to the SAPS family as a whole. May their souls rest in power and justice."
The Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) said the killing of uniformed protectors is "a special kind of evil" that required the swift action that Sitole put in place, through the special task team he established to make sure it does not happen again.
"It is of serious concern that the criminals stole firearms from the police station and there can be no doubt that they intend to commit further violent crimes, and that if they are not apprehended as a matter of urgency quickly, they will use these weapons and more innocent lives could be lost," Carl Niehaus, MKMVA national spokesperson said.
The Black Wealth Foundation (BWF) recommended that Robben Island be turned into a prison again for criminals of the calibre of those behind the Ngcobo attack.
"BWF calls upon government to consider reopening Robben Island as a prison for purposes of jailing perpetrators of the heinous acts of criminality and treason. BWF also calls upon government to consider reclassification of killing of on-duty police as treason instead of mere murder," said BWF deputy chairperson Azania Matiwane.
In January, Mbalula lauded the arrest of 13 people, including five "kingpins", after an undercover police operation cracked open a syndicate moving drugs and hijacking vehicles in the Eastern Cape.
At the time, he said "Operation Damage" involved undercover officers working in the "belly" of the underworld as they investigated dealers in mandrax, tik and other drugs in operations from Cape Town to King William's Town, East London, Mdantsane, Peddie and Port Alfred.
Sitole and Mbalula were expected to visit the station soon.
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