Defend Truth


The case for declaring police killings in South Africa acts of treason


Zizamele Cebekhulu-Makhaza is President of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru).

The police are mandated to protect citizens and prevent crime – a threat against them is a threat against the safety of all South Africans, and a treasonous threat to our constitutional democracy.

Police officers risk their lives to fulfil their mandate to their country every day, but the alarming rate at which they are being killed is cause for grave concern. 

The first quarter’s crime statistics released by Police Minister Bheki Cele painted a grim picture for South African police officers, revealing that as many as 31 were murdered between April and the end of June 2023 – an average of one officer every three days. And since June, we have seen several more deadly attacks on police, on and off duty, with many losing their lives.  

This gradual upsurge is unacceptable and through the years, police management has promised measures to bolster the safety of police officers. But as more wreaths are being laid for fallen officers, greater investments in their safety and protection are urgently required. 

Unfortunately, in many cases, police officers are targeted for their firearms, as well as for their ties to high-profile cases or other investigations. We have also received reports of a disturbing new trend where gang members are killing police officers as part of their initiation. 

To combat these trends, we must ensure that crime intelligence services are adequately resourced and that they share information effectively. Next, our police officers must receive the housing allowances required to ensure that they are able to find and live in safe and secure homes.

Furthermore, we must also equip our police service with the resources and manpower needed to increase their presence and visibility in our communities, and deter criminals from illegal activities. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Weekend of bloodshed sees protection officer killed in mass shooting and policewoman found murdered

The South African Police Service is constantly understaffed. This, together with a lack of resources and proper training, limits their ability to effectively combat crime. Additionally, there is a continuous shortage of boots on the ground, as the current SAPS structure is top-heavy and too many members are left to sit in offices rather than patrol the streets. 

Then consider that Reagen Allen, the Western Cape MEC for police oversight and community safety, reports that the national police-to-population ratio stands at one officer for every 413 residents. But in many disadvantaged areas with soaring levels of crime and violence, it is one officer for as many as 700 or even 800 residents. 

Additionally, it is important to recognise that South Africa is ranked the fifth-most-dangerous country globally and has the highest crime rate in Africa with a crime index of 75.5, reflecting the high demands placed on our police. And as economic pressures and social dissatisfaction grow, the situation is likely to get worse. 

The deaths of police officers detract from the SAPS’s ability to execute its mandate and safeguard our communities, posing a significant danger to South African citizens.

Ultimately, this means that police are often simply outmatched by criminals, placing their lives at extreme risk. Currently, however, the legal consequences for killing police officers remain insufficient to effectively prevent criminals from targeting them for attack, as demonstrated by the gradual upsurge in police deaths. 

Today, if criminals are found guilty of killing a police officer, they will face a murder charge which is punishable by life imprisonment. According to South African law, an individual facing a life sentence is eligible for parole after 25 years, which means that criminals often go free. If it is their first offence, they only need to serve 15 years. 

In other words, there is no real justice for slain police officers. 

A threat to all

Yet, as the police are mandated to protect citizens and prevent crime, a threat against them is a threat against the safety of all South Africans, and a treasonous threat to our constitutional democracy. 

Treason can be defined as the unlawful act of violating or endangering the security of the state. And by this definition, killing police officers, rejecting the rule of law, and working against the security of our state is most certainly a treasonous act. The deaths of police officers detract from the SAPS’s ability to execute its mandate and safeguard our communities, posing a significant danger to South African citizens. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Two cops shot as ‘28s gang members’ ambush Cape Town police station ‘to retrieve alcohol’

By classifying the killing of a police officer as both murder and treason, we hope to send a strong warning to all criminals to respect law enforcement, and that harsh penalties await any who threaten these vital public servants. 

As a result, Popcru has declared that police killings ought to be declared treason. We call on the state and legislators to demand harsher punishments for offenders and ensure justice for police members. We can no longer be passive in our approach and sit idly as our members are slaughtered.

Now is the time for action to ensure their protection, punishing perpetrators to the full extent of the law, and making all criminals think twice before threatening our police officers. DM


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  • Ben Harper says:

    Police killings are most likely because of their involvement with crime (for the most part). Assassinations like those of Mr Kinnear I agree with harsh punishment and sentencing but the sad reality is that a large number of police staff are up to their eyeballs in crime themselves

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