Police must fight back

07 September 2015 - 02:07 By Sipho Masombuka

As president Jacob Zuma has called for a new strategy for police officers to defend themselves against attack, a community in Limpopo is accusing the SAPS of opening fire indiscriminately. Zuma, speaking at a memorial for slain officers in Pretoria yesterday, bemoaned situations in which the police had to act within the law in dealing with citizens who did not respect the law.But it was alleged yesterday that police shot civilians in the village of Ga-Mapela, wounding nine, including a pregnant woman.Letlhogonolo Gaborone, the lawyer representing the community, said those injured had not even been taking part in a protest, but were hiding along the nearby river when they were shot."I was told that police ordered them to come out, sing and dance. They were then ordered to run, but police officers opened fire as they ran off. All were shot in the legs, which shows that they were running ," he said.The community is in a continuing dispute with the nearby Anglo-Platinum mine and has burnt down a local chief's house, a tribal office and a senior citizens' home built by the mine. The villagers accuse the mine of not fulfilling its commitments to develop the area,Limpopo police spokesman Ronel Otto denied that nine people were injured, saying police were aware only of a woman injured when a rubber bullet struck her foot."We had officers visiting her [yesterday] at Mokopane Hospital. She was not shot with a live bullet. Police fired rubber bullets on Friday to disperse the crowd, but that is the only injury we are aware of," she said.Community leader Moketi Khoda said police were gathered in the area as the community threatened to shut down operations at the mine this morning."They [police] have been shooting since Monday. The gathering was peaceful and they just started shooting. Those injured were hiding. Police told them to come out and shot at them," she said.Zuma feels the police are the ones that need to defend themselves, urging them to do so "with everything at your disposal if you are attacked, within the confines of the law. Our laws allow the police to fight back decisively when their lives or those of the public are threatened."He said police officers were fiercely criticised when they defended themselves."The debate must include where you draw the line. Who draws the line for you? As a police officer, disciplined, operating within the law, and the criminal respects no law and is in front of you, what do you do," he asked.Judge Ian Farlam, who headed the Marikana judicial commission of inquiry, is critical of the SA Police Service's public-order policing and has recommended that a panel be established to review such policing and analyse international best practice.In his Marikana report, he also recommends that decisions should be made by an officer in overall command and with relevant training, and that the means of communication between police and alternative options be improved.Zuma yesterday called on Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko and national police commissioner Riah Phiyega to ensure police had adequate weapons to protect themselves. He warned that police officers were not sitting ducks and would defend themselves.But, he said, police must avoid using excessive force.Nhleko was working on a major overhaul of the police following the Marikana massacre, when police gunned down 34 miners in North West in August 2012.Zuma said a National Tactical Response Plan had been developed to respond immediately and effectively to the murders of policemen.At the police memorial site at the Union Buildings in Pretoria where Zuma spoke yesterday, 63 police officers killed between April 2014 and March were remembered.A total of 58 policemen have been killed - 27 on duty and 31 off duty - since January this year alone.Zuma said there were very few countries where so many police were killed within such a short space of time."I believe this matter of police killings is no longer an academic question. It is a serious question that needs us to respond to it more realistically," Zuma said...

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