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Bheki Cele orders Western Cape police, ‘Shoot and kill, then later ask who started the war’

Bheki Cele orders Western Cape  police, ‘Shoot and kill, then later ask who started the war’
Police Minister Bheki Cele addresses members of the South African Police Service during a parade in Belhar on 18 July 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Jaco Marais)

Police Minister Bheki Cele has once again encouraged police officers to shoot to kill when they encounter criminals. Cele was speaking during the launch of the Western Cape’s Safer Festive Season campaign in Mitchells Plain on Tuesday.

Police Minister Bheki Cele says those who think the festive season is a time to commit crimes must be given a tough time by the police.  

“Criminals have declared war. [The police] don’t ask around who started the war. When you find the war, when you find people raping women, when you find people breaking into people’s houses, don’t ask who started — join the war. Shoot and kill, then later ask who started the war.”  

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said the remarks reinforced the need for police devolution.  

“I strongly condemn Minister Cele’s remarks, and call on other leaders in government and civil society to join me in doing so,” said Hill-Lewis.  

He said this instruction from the minister of police to the police officers under his watch was not only profoundly irresponsible but was also an incitement to break the law. 

“The Criminal Procedure Act provides very clear guidelines on the appropriate and proportionate use of force for police officers. Minister Cele’s remarks can only be interpreted as the bluster of a failed police minister with no real understanding of how to fight crime.  

“Indeed, a pattern has developed in which national police ministers resort to ‘shoot to kill’ exhortations precisely when it is evident they are losing the fight against crime.”  

Cape Town and the Western Cape government have over the past few years asked to be given more policing powers.  

Cele’s woes  

City Press recently reported that Cele’s past had come back to haunt him after the head of the Investigating Directorate of the National Prosecuting Authority asked the Hawks to reinvestigate a controversial rental deal involving the minister.  

The case against Cele, which stems from his attempts more than 10 years ago to rent a building in Pretoria that would serve as the new police headquarters, without following tender procedures, is one of those explored by journalist Jacques Pauw in his new book, Our Poisoned Land: Living in the Shadows of Zuma’s Keepers.  

The ANC’s Western Cape legislature community safety spokesperson, Ayanda Bans, said Cele’s remarks needed to be taken in context. 

“Our SAPS are under attack and they must defend themselves. Our law permits anyone to defend themselves. However, our policemen and women must also be role models of the rule of law. They cannot pursue that which is illegal and so, therefore, they must be cautious in their approach even in fighting crime.” 

Daily Maverick recently reported that a nationwide investigation had been launched after reports that recruits had paid for admission to SA Police Service (SAPS) colleges. The claims are supported by a leaked voice message from a Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union whistle-blower. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Police confirm nationwide probe into alleged corrupt recruitment of trainees” 

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

Cele’s previous ‘shoot to kill’ 

This was not the first time Cele called on the police to shoot and kill criminals. He did it in 2009, shortly before he became police commissioner. His predecessor, Fikile Mbalula (currently the transport minister), came under fire for similar remarks in 2017.   

Crime and policing expert Eldred de Klerk said on the face of it, Cele’s remarks were not acceptable, but they had to be taken in context. De Klerk is the senior policing and social conflict specialist at Africa Centre for Security and Intelligence Praxis.

“There are a couple of things to consider for the minister, like his members are so hesitant to act in case they face legal and criminal charges for acting with undue force. 

“It is an indictment on the police themselves and their leadership, because you would hope that such concerns are addressed through operational levels when members go on duty,” said De Klerk. 

He added that the remarks were made to members of the police force who know the circumstances that warrant the use of deadly force.  

De Klerk also criticised Cele’s earlier remarks that people with tattoos tend to be criminals and that he does not want people with tattoos in the police force.  

“That was unfortunate because [the] SAPS is a reflection of society. People get tattoos for different reasons like celebrating a milestone in their lives. Being an African, body scarring/marking is common. We mark our bodies to indicate rituals or a rite of passage. The minister as a seasoned politician is aware that for many people with [gang] tattoos these are not a tattoo of choice.” 

De Klerk called the comments by the Cape Town mayor opportunistic. 

“A single individual does not quantify why the police need to be devolved, because there are huge problems with the metro police and how they treat people on a daily basis. 

“Whether it is JP Smith saying, ‘We will not be held to ransom by the taxi industry and we will meet force with force’, that is no different to what the minister [Cele] is saying.” DM


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