Zuma backs changes to Criminal Procedure Act

The killing of a police captain in Pretoria this week was an example of why South Africa needs to rewrite the Criminal Procedure Act to give police the right to shoot criminals, President Jacob Zuma said on Friday.

Writing in the African National Congress’s weekly newsletter, Zuma said Captain Charl Scheepers was shot dead while trying to reason with a suspect.

“Any criminal who finds it so easy to kill a police officer has no respect whatsoever for the law and law enforcement of any kind,” he said.

“As it stands, section 49 [of the Criminal Procedure Act] does allow the police to use even deadly force in order to effect an arrest or to prevent the commission of a crime.

“In practice, however, the lack of a clear directive compels policemen to err on the side of caution. This is what happened with Captain Scheepers.”

Scheepers was gunned down in his car by a suspected robber in Lynnwood last Saturday night.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa plans to introduce legislation in Parliament this year amending the Criminal Procedure Act to give police greater firepower, but the details of the draft amendment have not been disclosed.

It is expected to prompt an intense human rights debate as a Constitutional Court ruling struck down the apartheid-era version of Section 49. This revoked the police’s right to shoot at fleeing suspects or those suspected of having committed serious crimes.

As the law stands, police officers are allowed to use lethal force only if their lives or those of innocent bystanders are in danger.

Zuma said the ANC’s landslide victory in the April elections had given the party the mandate to change the law as the party’s election manifesto had stated it would introduce law amendments to protect police in their line of duty.

“Therefore, when we say that we are going to strengthen the hand of the police through amending section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act, we are basing that on a mandate that an overwhelming majority of South Africans gave the ANC.”

Like Mthethwa, Zuma said the aim was not to give “trigger-happy” police a licence to shoot at random.

“What we are saying is that police officers would place their own lives and those of innocent citizens first when confronted with situations of life and death.”

The president acknowledged that crime rates were too high, but said South Africa was still safer than many other countries.

“[The] crime situation in our country is bad, but we are not saying it is way beyond other countries in the world.
It is much safer to walk on our streets than in many other countries in the world,” he said.

“However, we do not want to tolerate any crime, even if our levels are lower than of other countries.”

Statistics published last month showed that nearly 50 murders are committed in South Africa every day.—Sapa

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