President Jacob Zuma has called on South Africans to assist government in coming up with ways to curb police killings, saying the current situation is more than concerning.
He was speaking to media at the home of slain Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) member, Simon Mabatamela, in Moleleki Extension in Ekurhuleni on Monday.
Mabatamela was brutally killed in the line of duty at a shopping complex in Johannesburg during an armed robbery last week. The robbery and killing was captured on CCTV and has drawn condemnation nationwide.
The President said police were badly criticised if they acted harshly against criminals leaving them unsure of what to do when faced with danger.
“If they protect themselves and the country’s citizens, they fall under heavy criticism. I think this nation has to explain how police must protect themselves and the country. If you attack the police, you are in fact attacking the state. It cannot be allowed. Government needs to take serious action,” he said.
He said the nation must assist in giving direction in this regard so that police officers will know what is expected of them when they are faced with danger.
Government will discuss this issue as well as whether South Africa should be turned into a gun-free nation wherein no citizen owns a gun.
The President said police and ordinary South Africans have been killed with legal and illegal firearms and some of the guns were even taken off of a police officer.
The situation indicates the number of weapons that criminals possess in the country, he said, adding that it seems police as protectors of the nation are target number one for criminals.
Statistics show that about 53 police officers have been killed since January this year.
Family representatives of other police members who were killed in Johannesburg recently were also at Mabatamela’s home so that the President could express his condolences to them.
“We have come to sympathise with the family, to share our pain with them … These were our government employees, our protectors, who were killed on duty.
“We have also came to express our shock and our own concern about what is happening … They were their families’ loved ones,” he said.
Representative of the Mabatamela’s family, Eunice Sebabole, said the family was saddened mostly by the way in which Mabatamela died.
“It is really hard for our family. He left behind four children and a grandchild, his wife and mother. It is painful because he was the hope of this family, he was the breadwinner in the house,” Sebabole said.
She said the President had promised that the culprits would be brought to book. The family appreciated the Presidential visit.
National Police Commissioner, General Riah Phiyega, who was part of the Presidential entourage, said each year South Africa loses close to 80 police officers. Last year 86 police members were killed, with the majority being killed off duty.
“By virtue of being a police officer certain things become an attraction to criminals – could be the guns or because of the cases they are investigating,” she said, adding that this was a cause for concern for the police.
She said the South African citizen/police ratio was currently at one police officer to 347 citizens, meaning that if one police officer is killed the safety of 347 citizens is affected.
Local and provincial government officials were also on hand to give support to the families.