Government Minister Sparks Outrage After Saying S. African Police Should Shoot to Kill Criminals

A government official sparked an uproar Wednesday by saying police should shoot to kill when confronting armed criminals in a country notorious for its high rates of murder and rape.

Susan Shabangu, deputy safety and security minister, said in remarks broadcast on television and radio Tuesday that, if threatened, police should "kill the bastards."

"I want no warning shots. You have one shot and it must be a kill shot," she told a public meeting.

There is growing anger in South Africa about rampant crime. More than 50 people are murdered each day — often for as little as a cell phone — and violent robbery and carjackings are common, as is kidnapping and attacks on children.

The country has highest reported rate of rape of the world, though not all countries file reports. More than 50,000 cases were reported last year, almost 150 a day. Based on reported cases alone, South Africa has 114 rapes per 100,000 people, compared with a rate of 32 rapes per 100,000 in the United States, according to police figures.

Jacob Zuma, president of the ruling African National Congress, struck a popular chord when he floated the idea of bringing back the death penalty.

The country's Human Rights Commission expressed concern Wednesday that Shabangu's comments were "inciting, disparaging and dismissive of the rule of law."

It said they violated the constitutional principal that police should only use "the least degree of force reasonably necessary in order to carry out the arrest."

"The Commission would like to challenge Deputy Minister Shabangu to prove that her utterances are consistent with her sworn oath of office. In terms of this oath of office, the Deputy Minister swore to be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and will obey, respect and uphold the Constitution and all other law of the Republic with honor and dignity," it said in a statement.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance said Shabangu should be sacked.

Shabangu also was quoted by Independent newspapers as telling the meeting that the public should not accept lame excuses for police inactivity.

"If criminals dare to threaten the police or the livelihoods of innocent men, women and children, they must be killed. End of story," she said.

"The constitution says that criminals must be kept safe. But I say no, no, no."