PRETORIA - South African President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday urged police officials from across the country to crack down harder on one of the world's highest rates of violent crime, and shoot to kill if needed.
Zuma appears to be adopting a zero-tolerance policy on crime, hoping to ease concerns that next year's soccer World Cup in South Africa may be marred by carjackings, murders and robberies, and reassure investors it is safe to do business here.
In a meeting with police station commanders and security officials, Zuma highlighted challenges facing the outgunned and poorly paid police force a week after disturbing new crime statistics were issued.
When their lives or the lives of innocent civilians are threatened, police sometimes have no choice but to use lethal force to defend themselves and others, Zuma told over 1,000 police station commanders.
However, we are not encouraging a culture of trigger-happy police officers.
About 50 people are killed in the country each day, sometimes for as little as a cellphone, as police battle against what the government has called a killing field in Africa's biggest economy.
Violent business robberies -- which could hurt investment -- climbed by 41.5 percent from April 2008 to March 2009. House robberies rose by 27.3 percent.
ABNORMAL CRIME PROBLEM
Ministers were also there to hear Zuma's call for a more energetic police force in what his office said was the first event that a South African president addressed so many police officials.
He said South Africa must acknowledge the magnitude of the trouble. We have an abnormal criminal problem, for that we have to explore extraordinary means, said Zuma.
Tackling crime is crucial if South Africa, in its first recession in 17 years, wants to keep South African professionals from taking their skills abroad.
Wealthy and middle class South Africans live in homes protected with electric fencing, high walls and gates, though most crimes occur in poor black areas.
Criminals often slip through the cracks of an overburdened justice system and analysts say poor police work makes securing convictions difficult.
The statistics remind us that we must work harder to dent the three problematic categories of crime -- house and business robberies as well as car hijackings, said Zuma, who set a goal of cutting crime by 7-10 percent a year.
The number of detectives has increased by more 19 percent this year, he said.