Serious discussion on gun, police laws needed - Zuma
In the wake of more than 50 police officers killed since the beginning of 2015, a serious discussion was needed on the laws governing guns in South Africa, as well as how the police protect themselves, President Jacob Zuma said on Monday.
He went on to question whether police were being too "soft" and "democratic" when dealing with criminals.
Zuma was speaking to media in Katlehong, where he visited a gathering of families of slain police officers, including that of Johannesburg metro police officer Simon Mabatamela.
Zuma said it was clear that the number of firearms in South Africa represented a danger to its citizens.
"You have a situation where the protectors of our citizens, the police, are... target number one.
"If the police acted harshly against criminals, they are heavily criticised, with some quarters saying they reminded South Africa of the past. Therefore, the police are expected not to be harsh and to know what to do when faced with danger, while also being expected to protect South Africa's citizens.
'Should we allow police to be killed by criminals'
"I think this nation has to explain how the police must protect themselves and the country. Should we allow the police to be killed by criminals because the police must be soft; they must be democratic when they face the criminals? When the criminals are not democratic?" Zuma said.
"What is it that we need to do? I believe this nation must give direction so that the police would know what to do if faced by dangerous criminals."
He said government needed to discuss the issue, which included looking at whether so many firearms should be allowed in society.
"Many of the police and the ordinary citizens have been killed by both illegal arms and legal arms. Some of them are taken from the police. At times, the police are killed because the criminals want the guns the police are carrying," Zuma said.
"What must we do? We also, as a nation, have to choose: Should we allow the weapons... and, therefore, walk in danger or should we make South Africa a gun-free country? If yes... can we take measures to ensure we disarm the country?"
'They must not feel they are vulnerable'
Zuma said it was important for society to get involved in the discussion.
"I think as government we have already said the police must defend themselves within the law, but you might have to look at the law itself in terms of guns, in terms of how the police must protect themselves. They must not feel they are vulnerable," he said, adding that it was "unprecendented" for more than 50 police officers to be killed in months.
"By December, it could be more than 100. Is that what we want to see? I don't think so."
South Africa needed to change the manner in which it supported police in the execution of duties.
"Many of them were killed on duty and everybody knows in the country, the criminals, they are well-armed. Now what must we do? I think the answer must come from all of us," Zuma said.
National police commissioner Riah Phiyega - who accompanied Zuma to Katlehong, along with Gauteng Premier David Makhura, Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau and other officials, told the media that police killings had been occurring in South Africa for some time.
"Some are killed in the line of duty, whilst they are at work. Some are killed at home. In the past financial year, we've had 86 of them being killed, 34 when they were at work and the balance when they were at home."
'You kill a police person, you kill a nation'
She said the citizen-police ratio was 347 to one, which meant that losing 80 police officers was a significant loss.
"You kill a police person, you kill a nation," she said.
She said even though police had recently destroyed a large stockpile of illegal arms, it appeared the base supply of illegal firearms had swelled.
She reiterated what Zuma had said, saying it was time to look at the country's regulations and policies.
The involvement of the community and the relationship between the community and the police was crucial.
Mabatamela, 60, was killed on Monday last week at a Johannesburg mall when trying to stop the theft of a cash box.
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