'Guns should be last option' – Cele responds to Mthokozisi Ntumba killing

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A large group of police officers disperse a group of Wits students.
A large group of police officers disperse a group of Wits students.
Emmanuel Croset / AFP
  • Police Minister Bheki Cele says there were more suitable ways in which to deal with Wednesday's protest in Braamfontein.
  • Mthokozisi Ntumba was killed when police opened fire on a group of people on De Beer Street.
  • Cele said government committed itself to fully cooperate with investigations.

Police Minister Bheki Cele has been left scrambling for answers following the fatal shooting of Mthokozisi Ntumba in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, on Wednesday.

Ntumba was shot by police during student protests outside Wits University.

The 35-year-old husband and father of four had just walked out of a healthcare facility when a group of police emerged from a police nyala and opened fire.

Ntumba, who had recently obtained a Master's degree, was shot three times and died on the pavement.

Cele held a private meeting with the man's family in Kempton Park on Thursday morning. Shortly after the meeting, he told reporters outside Ntumba's home that he did not agree with the view that the police tended to use more force on black people during public order operations.

READ | Wits shooting: IPID to probe killing of man near student protest

"This question keeps coming and slowly it is becoming very difficult to defend it. It was more pronounced in the Western Cape. I sat down with the management and said that this is a public opinion and public perception. Slowly but surely, it is becoming difficult to defend it," he said.

When probed by News24 on whether he agreed with the criticism, Cele said: "I don't agree with it... but there will be elements of such within the organisation, but [the view] that it is the generic stance of SAPS, I would not agree."

In a wide-ranging in-studio interview with Newsroom Afrika's Xoli Mngambi following the Kempton Park visit, Cele was quick to agree that firearms should be used as a last resort against protesters.

He said the police had several options available to them, including "pushing [using shields], setting off grenades and water cannons".

"Guns should be the last option when it comes to public order policing," Cele said in the interview.

Earlier in the day, Cele told reporters he could "not explain" the circumstances around Ntumba's death.

"Somebody, for me, just went crazy," he said.

Cele also revealed during the interview that officials "on the ground" had lied about Ntumba's death and that it was only after Dr Tebogo Sedibe gave media interviews that the story changed.

Sedibe had treated Ntumba moments before, and later tried to resuscitate him on the pavement after he had been shot outside the clinic.

WATCH | Wits shooting: 'He was gasping' - doctor who treated victim details final moments

Cele said he was only briefed about the incident in the afternoon as he was engaging Parliament's portfolio committee on police at the time.

Asked if the officers – who can be seen in video footage firing shots – were still in the employ of the police service, Cele said they were, but said he agreed that they should be suspended. 

Mthokozisi Ntumba
Mthokozisi Ntumba was allegedly shot dead by police officers.

The minister admitted again that the excessive use of force against black people during protests was becoming an untenable position.

"I can't defend it," Cele told the broadcaster. 

He also revealed that he had spoken with President Cyril Ramaphosa about the incident on Wednesday evening.

"Government has committed itself to provide [its] full cooperation during the investigations," he said. 

The government also extended its condolences to Ntumba's family. 

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) has been tasked with getting to the bottom of the fatal shooting, News24 reported. 

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