This past weekend two police officers were gunned down in Cape Town in separate incidents. The news didn’t stay in the cycle for long – life was going on elsewhere.
Kofi Annan died and the Springboks won, and, besides, these two officers will simply add to the average number of police officers killed in South Africa every year.
In the past four years the average number of police officers killed per year is 81. There is something unsettling about a society in which those meant to be our primary protectors can simply be killed and there is no outcry, unless it’s a massacre like the one at Engcobo in the Eastern Cape earlier this year.
More than that, it is scary that 60% of the officers killed every year die off-duty.
The two officers who lost their lives this weekend were off-duty too, and they both had their firearms taken after they were murdered.
In a country that had over 19 000 murders last year alone it’s easy to dismiss the deaths of two officers in one city as nothing out of the ordinary. After all, Cape Town is the murder capital of South Africa according to last year’s statistics.
But this is exactly why everyone should be up in arms: the murder of a police officer on or off-duty is a direct attack on the crime-fighting ability of the state.
When a police officer is shot dead we must hear less of “no stone will be left unturned in pursuit of the killers” or – as happened this weekend – less of Police Minister Bheki Cele “strongly condemns the killing of police officers”.
What the country needs to hear is how far along are the plans that must surely be in place to curb police killings?
Condemnations and threats to police killers do nothing to help the situation.
The South African Police Service has the unenviable history of having been part of the state machinery that was used to enforce apartheid laws and, as a result, in most places there are lingering suspicions of their motives in the fight against crimes.
Part of curbing police murders must be the complete winning of trust of residents in all the areas where police are stationed. The off-duty policemen were murdered this weekend as they were picking up friends from their homes.
These cop killings occur in places where people reside; where it should be safest for an off-duty police officer.
Winning the trust of residents would ensure that every South African becomes the eyes of the law, thus protecting their own protectors.
It is also no secret that in trying to assert themselves as the ruling party, the ANC made crucial policy mistakes in disbanding police units dedicated to specific functions in the fight against crime – especially the murder and robbery units.
Although a decision has been taken to put some units together again progress is slow. The longer these units take to be put in place the more our off-duty police officers will become sitting ducks for criminals who may only be after the guns officers are carrying.
Without being alarmist, it needs to be acknowledged that the road towards a lawless society becomes complete when there is absolutely no respect for the state by ordinary citizens.
Every police officer, whether on duty or off, is a representative of the state. Police killings need to be accorded their proper criminal status so they can be curbed accordingly: killing a police officer is treason.