Nathi Mthethwa. Picture: SOWETAN
Nathi Mthethwa. Picture: SOWETAN

POLICE officers will continue to use maximum force and be guided by a "shoot to kill" policy against violent criminals such as cash-in-transit heist gangs, according to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

Concerns had been raised that the South African Police Service was backing down on the use of deadly firepower, widely espoused by former police commissioner Bheki Cele, following media reports that the ministry would no longer use rubber bullets to control violent and illegal protests.

Mr Mthethwa, however, said on Wednesday that maximum force was non-negotiable and that crowd-control units would continue to use rubber bullets when required.

"Police must return fire with fire," he said. "We will use maximum force based on the law itself. Those who want to break the law, such as cash-in-transit heists and bank robberies, must think again. They should know that we will not waiver in continuing to let them feel the heat and that we squeeze them with maximum force."

He said the police would continue to use rubber bullets when necessary during protests.

This year has seen the most service delivery protests since 2004, according to recent research by Municipal IQ, of which 88% were violent.

Mr Mthethwa said: "If there is no life-threatening situation, people are just marching and they are there illegally and you have to disperse them, then you use the necessary equipment (such as water cannons) that is appropriate for the situation.

"If they are pushed to a situation where medium force is required, then we will use rubber bullets. The point is that there is no need to be heavy-handed with people who are not harming people. "

Mr Mthethwa was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the newly formed Black Lawyers Association (BLA) student chapter at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Grilled by students on the legitimacy of granting medical parole to former police commissioner Jackie Selebi and President Jacob Zuma’s former financial adviser Schabir Shaik, he said their was nothing illegal about their release.

He said the two men had applied for parole legally and their applications had been considered and granted. He said those who felt aggrieved should challenge the laws governing parole applications.

In his speech, he told the BLA that South Africa had unique problems when it came to access to justice. He said lawyers needed to engage the constitution critically and not blindly accept laws handed down to them.

"The constitution should not become a tool of the rich," he said. "Equal justice means the fruits of justice are there for all to enjoy. The provision of equal access to justice is therefore a priority in reaching our transformative goal."