By Kotie Geldenhuys
When British Police Constable Andrew Harper was murdered on 15 August 2019 while responding to a reported burglary in Berkshire, he became the first police official to die on duty since Const Keith Palmer who had been murdered in March 2017. It was striking how the whole country seemingly mourned the death of the young Const Harper. His untimely passing was all over the news. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described his murder as a "mindless and a brutal crime". Reading Football Club honoured him with a minute's silence ahead of their home game against Cardiff City. Flowers were laid on the place where he died and flags were flown at half-mast across the UK on 17 August in honour of his extraordinary sacrifice. But it seems that we do not see this kind of recognition for fallen police members in South Africa.
Following the discussions and input by various stakeholders during a summit against police murders that was hosted in 2011, a ten-point programme of action was introduced. One of the points which was considered was flying the national flag at half-mast at police stations in honour of a fallen member. The reason for this specific suggestion was that it would make the country take note of the senseless murders of police members. Yet, it does not seem that this step has made an impact. Nevertheless, one action that is highly appreciated by the family members of slain cops, is when the police's top management as well as the Minister of Police, Mr Bheki Cele take time out of their busy schedules to visit them and/or attend the funerals of their loved ones. These actions usually attract media attention which can help to spread the message that an attack on a police member is an attack on the state and that police murders are of national concern.
Each year the first Sunday of September is set aside for the SAPS to remember the men and women in blue who have sacrificed and ultimately lost their lives in the line of duty. On this Commemoration Day, members of the SAPS's management pay tribute to these fallen members for their bravery, loyalty and sacrifices to serve and protect. It is also on this day when families realise that although their loved ones are no longer with us, they will never be forgotten.
This year on Spring Day, which indicates a new season, we paid a final tribute to those 26 police members and one police reservist, whose season ended too soon. The keynote speaker of the day, the Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr David Mabuza, told the grieving family members: "Today we pay homage to these men and women who dedicated their adult lives to serve their country, protect their communities and guard the welfare of all citizens without fear and favour ... We take this opportunity to salute these deceased heroes and heroines, and say to their families and colleagues, your loss is our loss, your pain is our pain, your grief is a grief shared by all South Africans. We are here not only to grieve for these fallen police officers, as we surely must, but also to find meaning in the courageous lives these police officers displayed. They strived to maintain law and order and to uphold public safety without discrimination." The Deputy President called on the public to engage in partnerships with the police as active police-public partnerships should restore stability and order. "It is in active police-public partnerships that we will prevent the wanton murder of our police officials. We must all join the call by the Minister of Police 'to work together in squeezing the space for criminals to zero'," he said and emphasised the fact that maintaining law and order are not only the function of the SAPS. Mr Mabuza made it clear that the SAPS needs and requires visible and tangible cooperation from community members who know where illegal substances are being sold, who know where stolen merchandise is being peddled and who know where alleged rapists and murderers are being hidden.
The Minister of Police, Mr Bheki Cele said: "The brave men and women, whom we are commemorating today, were the calibre of people who served and protected all the people of the country without fear or favour. The selfless patriotism these fallen heroes and heroines displayed, can never be emphasised." He added that this day of remembrance carried emotional memories of those who fell. "Most of all, it serves as a stark reminder that although we are in this world, we are not of this world. It is a day which causes us to stop and pause and step back from our busy lives and routines and ask ourselves whether the lives we lead are making a meaningful contribution to those we have vowed to serve."
The National Police Commissioner, Gen Khehla Sitole, noted that police officials faced life-threatening challenges each day as they battle crime in the country. He said: "Our police members and reservists are well aware of these dangers and the risk they take but they continue to selflessly protect our communities day and night, seeking neither glory nor praise. They continue to sacrifice their lives for the call of duty." Gen Sitole concluded by thanking the families of the fallen police members for always supporting and loving them. "Behind the scenes, you were the ones who motivate, encourage and empowered them to perform their duties with pride and dignity."
In loving memory of the 27 fallen heroes and heroines, the SAPS found it fitting to engrave their names on the national memorial wall situated at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to signify the gratitude of the nation. They were:
W/O C Mashego from the Hawks; Const N T Katoyi (39) from Khayelitsha Police Station; Const V T Diretse (26) from Augrabies in the Northern Cape; D/Const B B Ngcingwana (35) from the Mount Road Crime Office in Port Elizabeth; Const T Z Shange (25) from Yeoville Police Station; R/Const M A Serame (44) from Ekangala Police Station; Const M P Mahlatsi (36) from Elsburg Police Station in Gauteng; Const T E Hlopezulu (25) from Kenhardt Police Station in the Northern Cape; Sgt C F Mkhize (43) from Lingelethu West Police Station; Const M Neudane (36) from Cleveland Police Station in Gauteng; Const S M Buthelezi (36) from Ntuzuma Police Station in KwaZulu-Natal; Col L G Matsetela (50) from Bushbuckridge Police Station; D/Const M S Mamana (36) from the Mount Road Detective Unit in Port Elizabeth; W/O S S Kekae (59) from Letlhabile Police Station in the North West; Const P G de Lange (30) from Westenburg Police Station in Limpopo; Const A V Vuthulula (36) from Lusikisiki Police Station in the Eastern Cape; Const T L Phadziri (40) from Atteridgeville Police Station; Const V M March (27) from Koffiefontein Police Station in the Free State; Const D A Kemp (31) from Mount Road Flying Squad in Port Elizabeth; Const S D Stoffel (34) from Standerton Police Station in Mpumalanga; W/O E S Musa from the Operational Response Services Division's Special Task Force in Durban; Lt-Col C van der Vyver (52) from the Crime Intelligence Unit in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal; Const R Khalushi (35) from Kempton Park Police Station; Const S V Z Nkala (40) from Parys Police Station in the Free State; Sgt S Mtsewu (36) was returning from a community imbizo at Cambridge Police Station in the Eastern Cape; Const M M Ngcobo (46) from Town Hill in KwaZulu-Natal; and W/O M P Makati from Katlehong Police Station in Gauteng.