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Minister Bheki Cele Calls for Tighter Laws to Protect Police and Witnesses

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Police Minister Bheki Cele Highlights Successes in Combating Crime in South Africa

Bheki Cele

Police Minister Bheki Cele addressed the alarming rise in crimes against police officers and the vulnerability of witnesses in criminal trials at the National Conference on the Implementation of the Integrated Criminal Justice System (ICJS) programme,.

With 22 police officers having been killed in the line of duty between October and December 2023, Cele underscored the urgent need for legislative reforms that prioritize the safety of law enforcement and those who support the criminal justice system.

“Our call… is that human rights must be respected. Police are humans and they have rights. I would really like to see [the law] protecting members of the South African Police Service,” declared Cele, identifying a stark discrepancy in the current state of protection between criminals and law enforcers. His statement aired a prevailing sense that criminals seemingly receive more favorable treatment under the law than those charged with maintaining public order.

Cele assured that proposed legal amendments would not absolve SAPS members from acting within a legal framework, instead emphasizing the critical role they play in safeguarding the public. “The lives of SAPS members cannot be above the citizens of South Africa. But it must also be understood that they stand as a buffer between criminality and the whole of society. If they are pushed to the brink and they fall, these criminals will walk over the community thereafter,” he said, advocating for a balanced approach that prevents abuses of power while affording adequate protection for officers.

Addressing another vulnerable group within the criminal justice system, the Police Minister called for robust laws to protect those willing to take part in prosecutions. “We would love to see the law really getting tight on protecting witnesses. Sometimes, witnesses feel that we don’t take care of them. There are witnesses that lose everything for us to win cases, so it would be important that the law… makes sure that those who are prepared [to take the stand are protected],” Cele stated, emphasizing the critical role of witness testimony in securing convictions.

Speaking on bail conditions for suspected criminals, Cele pointed out the need for a more stringent assessment to prevent further destabilization in communities. “[Criminals] go and get bail and the community takes matters into their own hands so the bail issue is one issue that we have to look at,” he remarked, acknowledging the public’s loss of faith when suspected criminals are too easily released back into society.

Minister Cele’s stirring remarks concluded with a rallying cry for collaboration, urging all stakeholders to unite in mitigating crime and reinforcing a safe environment for South Africans. “Let’s work together across the board to reduce crime, while police are at the hard end of leading it with all law enforcement. But all other departments and all of us, we can do better to reduce crime and make South Africans feel better,” he encouraged.

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