JOHANNESBURG – Violence against South African police has reached a crisis point, the national police chief said Sunday, after four of his men were killed in just a few days.
Two officers were shot dead and their guns stolen early Sunday in a Cape Town squatter camp. Thursday, two officers were killed after raiding a building in eastern KwaZulu-Natal province. Police say the suspect in the KwaZulu-Natal shooting opened fire after police demanded he show them his liquor license.
"This is indeed a crisis," chief Bheki Cele said in a statement Sunday. "The rate at which our officers are being callously gunned down is extremely alarming."
Cele, himself accused of improper conduct in leasing police property, presides over a force beset by charges of corruption and brutality as it struggles to contain high rates of violent crime. Experts have expressed concern about the violence police face and low morale in the force, and about what they see as a breakdown in trust between police and the citizens they are pledged to protect.
"I have attended funerals of my police officers every weekend in this past four weeks, and I cannot help but state that community outcry on the killings of our officers is seriously lacking," Cele said Sunday.
South African police officers are standing trial in the death of a protester in an assault last month that aired on state TV and sparked accusations police were resorting to apartheid-era brutality. Also last month, one of the country's highest-ranking police officers was charged with murder in an alleged plot with other cops to kill a rival in a love triangle.
Last year, former national police chief Jackie Selebi was convicted of taking money and gifts from a confessed drug smuggler and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Earlier this year, a government watchdog found that Selebi's successor, Cele, acted unlawfully in making a deal to lease police offices from a prominent businessman, though no criminal charges have been filed.