The five policemen killed in an execution style attack on a police station in Ngcobo in the Eastern Cape have been identified.
Police on Thursday released pictures of the five officers, some of them in their police uniform.
Warrant officer Zikho Mbini, 45; Constable Sibongiseni Sandlana, 32; Constable Nkosiphendule Ponco, 32; Constable Kuhle Mathetha, 27 and Constable Zuko Ntsheku, 38 were killed on Wednesday after unknown gunmen opened fire at the police station in what is believed to be the deadliest of its kind in South Africa.
Four people have been taken in for questioning in connection with the massacre of the police officers and a retired soldier.
The national task team tracking the killers took the four in after they were alerted by the owner of a bed-and-breakfast in Komani when they tried to book in with fake names that did not match their ID documents.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula gave a 72-hour deadline for the culprits to be caught following the mass murder on Wednesday.
One of the five slain police officers had only recently graduated from the police college in Bhisho.
Police bosses visited the officers’ grieving families yesterday.
Eastern Cape police commissioner Lieutenant-General Liziwe Ntshinga visited the family of one of the victims, Constable Kuhle Mathetha, in Ncorha near Ngcobo.
Port Elizabeth detectives from Eastern Cape Provincial Organised Crime – who report to Ntshinga – and Public Order Policing members were called in to assist with tracking down the killers
Ntshinga, accompanied by other police top brass, described the slain officers as national heroes.
“Kuhle’s mother, don’t worry – we didn’t sleep the whole night searching for them,” she said.
“Kuhle and the four other officers are national heroes. “Their killing will not be in vain.” Mathetha’s aunt, Nontsikelelo Mathetha-Ngxola, said: “He always wanted to be a policeman and serve his country.
“He dropped out of university where he was doing IT, to join the force. “He was passionate about the police.” Mathetha only graduated from the police college last month.
Mathetha-Ngxola said they had last seen him last week when he went home to borrow his father’s car so he could drive to Mthatha to get his police uniform.
She heaped praise on the police for their swift actions. “We would like to salute the SAPS for the good job they are doing and the support that they have given us.”
Ntsheku’s mother, Nobesuthu, said her son, the eldest of seven children, had been the sole breadwinner. “We depended on him for everything. “He was feeding us, clothing us, and was the one paying for the schooling of all these children,” she said. “We are devastated. My heart is broken. “Why did my son die like this?” Ntsheku, the father of two young children, was one of the two policemen killed execution-style near Nyanga High School, about 6km from the police station.
Pongco’s family cried uncontrollably when police head of personnel Brigadier Thobeka Kunene visited them in Malungeni 3. Pongco was also the sole breadwinner. His sisters, Nowinti and Ntombonina, said they hoped the killers would be jailed for life.
Mbini’s family was too distraught to speak. He is survived by a wife and two children.
Sandlana’s uncle, the Rev Zibonele Sandlana – who accompanied acting abaThembu King Azenathi Dalindyebo when he visited the police station – described his nephew as the family’s rock.
A woman police officer who was forced at gunpoint to open all the safes with the guns and pack them in a bag, is receiving counselling in East London.
“The suspects were shouting: ‘Where are the keys? Shut up, do not make a noise’,” an insider said.
Provincial police spokesman Captain Khaya Tonjeni said: “I can confirm we’ve taken four in for questioning.
“The investigation is at an advanced but sensitive stage. “We are following very strong leads.” South African Policing Union (SAPU) general secretary Oscar Skommere welcomed a decision for a full parliamentary debate on the attack in the National Assembly on Wednesday next week.
“Although this debate will never bring back our members, it is the correct decision towards putting senseless police killings on the nation’s agenda,” he said.
“After debating this act of cowardice, MPs must come up with tough legislation to curb these killings.
“This is a positive step towards the eradication of police killings in South Africa.”
Parliament’s police portfolio committee chairman Francois Beukman called the attack barbaric and a national tragedy.
He called for the urgent implementation of safety measures at all police stations.
“The fight against the proliferation of arms must be heightened as this will remove the tools of crime from these criminals,” he said
Parliament’s security and justice committee chairman Simphiwe Mthimunye said the attack showed the vulnerability of unsecured police stations and rural communities.
The gunmen stormed the police station and opened fire, killing three officers.
They then separated women police officers from the men.
After robbing the station of six pistols, two shotguns and two assault rifles, they killed a retired soldier.
Thereafter, they hijacked a police car with two officers in it.
The officers were shot dead execution-style and their bodies dumped near Nyanga High School, about 6km from the station.
Before attacking the police station, the gunmen had bombed an ATM in the town.
There will be a memorial service at the Methodist Church in Ngcobo for the victims on Tuesday.
These are the police members who died during the attack: