Deadly shootout spurs new crime fears in South Africa
The deaths of eight suspected gang members and four policemen in a bloody South African shootout raised fresh fears of unbridled violence on Monday despite government vows to bring crime rates down.
Sunday's gun battle, which shocked even crime-weary South Africans, erupted after police followed suspects back to a house following a robbery at a Johannesburg area supermarket.
Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula, who sparked widespread outrage recently when he said people who "whine" about high crime levels should leave the country, acknowledged on Monday that rampaging crime was a big government concern.
"South Africa has this problem of crime. It is not about white victims and black perpetrators," Nqakula told Reuters. "It is a problem and even people within my own family circle have suffered. In overall terms it is declining, but remains high."
Police spokesman Inspector Dennis Adriao said 11 surviving suspects from the shootout in a residential area near central Johannesburg would appear in court on Tuesday.
"They will face a number of charges, first and foremost murder," Adriao said.
Nqakula said a proliferation of weapons into South Africa was a major problem but refused to blame violent crime on thousands of illegal immigrants known to be in the country.
"We are trying to put the guns out of circulation. We have very good crime intelligence and we are working to better investigations and detention facilities," he said.
Adriao said police found a large cache of weapons, including an AK-47 automatic rifle, at the house.
The four police officers' deaths brought to 19 the number of police killed in Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, since the beginning of the year.
South Africa suffers from some of the world's highest rates of violent crime, with murders, car hijackings and violent robberies covered in gory detail by the country's newspapers.
Debate is raging among South Africans on re-introducing the death penalty along with other measures, including denying bail and imposing lengthy jail sentences for violent crime suspects.
But Nqakula ruled out a return of capital punishment, which was abolished in South Africa's post-apartheid constitution.
Cache found at SA shoot-out house