It saddens me that every year South African Police Service members continue to succumb to the brutal onslaught on their lives. On Sunday 3 September 2017, the SAPS held its annual commemoration day. The day is aimed at paying tribute to all police members who had lost their lives on the line of duty. This year's memorial commemorated the lives of members who were victims of fatalities that occurred during the 2016/2017 financial year.
The number of members who passed away stayed the same at 40 - the same number of members who were commemorated during the 2016 event - compared to 63 during the 2014/2015 financial year. The overall decline of police killings over the past two decades was confirmed by a survey that was conducted by the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR). According to this institutes' 20 year period survey that was released in June, 1970 members died in the line of duty between 1994 and 2004 while the figures dropped to 945 between 2005 and 2014.
This decline can be attributed to the societal change of perception towards men and women in blue. This has brought about a change of political dynamics and the government system of a democratic dispensation.
Historically, the darkest days were when the country was in turmoil and at bitter war with itself. During those days police members were randomly targeted for their discredited role of being whistle-blowers and great proponents of the regime of the day. They were unwelcome in their dwellings and their presence was regarded as the symbol of hostility.
One of most memorable scenes of that era is the 1985 heartless attack of an innocent man who posed no threat to anyone:
Const Solly Mandlazi of Narvis Street, Ackerville, Witbank, attended the funeral of a neighbour, unaware that his presence triggered the anger of community. He was ultimately targeted at the cemetery, hacked with a shovel, thrown into a hole and buried alive. His sole transgression was to find himself in the same space with people who no longer regarded him as one of their own because he donned the blue uniform at work. This was done without considering that his daily work was to administer the affairs of the deceased at the local police mortuary. He was never linked to any activities of the Internal Stability Unit (ISU) or security branch that were notorious for venomous human slaughter.
As a country we seem to have realised the fatal flaw of distancing policing from communities; and that was corrected by bringing police closer to the people. The changing role of the police in the new government system has made it possible to transform the perception of the community towards the police. That was supported by the progress made in building relations between the police and communities. Policing is now (supposed to be) rooted in the community and it (the community) has (mostly) accepted the police service as law enforcers rather than enemies of humanity. This is affirmed by the partnership that has been forged by both the SAPS and community structures as equal partners in the fight against crime.
Such efforts have resulted in police members no longer being killed in collective acts of hatred but rather murdered in isolated crime-related incidents. Generally, police members are killed when they respond to crime or attend to complaints. Many offenders are armed suspects of crime who resist arrest.
Then, irrespective of the significant drop of the killings, police members will remain in constant danger as long as there are armed and hostile crime suspects. This is attested through scarier ferocity that is perpetrated against police members. Criminals of this moment dither not to attack police members at their stations. Some ensue shoot-outs with the police and others ambush them on the road.
Courage of ruthless criminals was recently revealed by one of three men who, after pretending to report an incident of robbery in Lingelethu West, produced a firearm and shot a sergeant in the face. Fortunately, the sergeant escaped with his life and survived the calamity with injuries. The following day, the two lifeless bodies of constables were found in cold blood at the Koffiefontein Community Service Centre. One was shot in the head while the other was shot twice, in the back and in the head. A firearm of one of the deceased was missing. It is suspected that the duo was killed by a person or a group of people that attacked the Community Service Centre.
Many were disturbed by a rumour that was circulated on social media about the attack of Hillbrow Police Station, a few days after the Koffiefontein incident. Yet, it was a great relief to learn that the broadly circulated news was fake. Therefore, the public should desist from circulating fake and inflammatory messages.
These and all other heinous acts of criminality are not only provocative to the SAPS as law enforcement but also to the national state of the republic. Therefore, such a situation necessitates that police members are intact in their quest to create a safe and secure country. They must not be deterred in their mandate of protecting the community. Their safety should begin with them, because they cannot defend the community if they are vulnerable to criminals.
Therefore, they must act with the agility of cats and the ferocity of bulls when their lives are under siege. In early June, members of a gang of suspected ATM bombers had to digest the venom of their spleens after they shot at members of National Intervention Unit (NIU) in Hammansdale. During that dreadful episode, W/O Ndabenhle Zwane died in combat, on the beat, but eight suspects were mowed down and their names were written in blood. Police confiscated two rifles, four handguns, five explosive devices and two detonators at the scene.
Among the members who were commemorated during this year's event was Const Mthetho Sandla. He was murdered when he and his colleague were ambushed by two AK-47 wielding suspects during 2016's Youth Day. His colleague suffered injuries but survived the ambush. At the time, they were responding to an ATM bombing in Delft in the Western Cape. Another member, namely Sgt Andries Mabena, was killed just four days before Christmas Day. He was fatally shot by a suspect in a business robbery at a plastic shop in Jeppe.
It is unfortunate that many of the deceased members met their untimely deaths at young ages and subsequent low ranks. Most of them leave behind young families that need to be taken care of. Now their children are bound to face the tribulations of life in their absence. The moment of silence that has again been observed gave us all a moment to assemble their eternal memories that are vividly imprinted in our minds.
Communities are urged to unite and continue to work tirelessly towards thwarting the scourge of these senseless killings until there are no more commemoration days!
[Servamus pays tribute to our members in blue who made the ultimate sacrifice. Refer to our related article published in Servamus: October 2017. Ed.]