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South Africa: Police Chief Bheki Cele backtracks on botched apology to Muslims

From The South African

Police Minister Bheki Cele has performed an about u-turn on his apology to the Muslim community for his South African Police Service (SAPS) member’s alleged blasphemy during the arrest of 24 worshippers over the weekend. 

Having initially issued an apology for the callous use of the word “Mohammed” by several officers during the raid on Saturday 25 April, he has now said that his apology was misrepresented, and that he intended to reiterate his position that no one is above the law. 

“The Minister has noted with concern the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the statement issued in relation to the religious gathering, and has subsequently emphasised that no one is above the law and that the Muslim community is not receiving preferential treatment as opposed to other religions,” said acting national police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters.

Worshippers gathered at a mosque in Masibekela in the Mbuzini area in Mpumalanga, breaking lockdown regulations in the process. Police stormed the place of worship and booked 24 of the people who had gathered for prayer. 

It was then noted that in a video of the raid, shared widely across social media, that officers could be heard using a religious term in a derogatory manner. The alleged discrimination has angered the Muslim community,

He (Cele) said that their actions must be condemned at all costs, as they had flagrantly broken the lockdown rules. The statement continued to underpin the seriousness of the crime committed by the worshippers, saying that they will never apologise for imposing the rule of law. 

“If they, or any other religious group, host another gathering, police will arrest them again but without being blasphemous in executing their duties. This cuts across all gatherings be they religious, cultural or otherwise.”

Previously the Sunday Times of South Africa had reported

Minister Bheki Cele warned on Sunday that police had “no choice but to enforce the law” if the lockdown regulations were flouted for religious gatherings. He was speaking after the arrest of congregants during Muslim prayer gatherings.

Since the start of the long weekend, police have arrested 41 congregants at two separate religious gatherings in Pretoria and Mpumalanga, national police spokesperson Brig  Vishnu Naidoo said on Sunday. One of the incidents, in Mpumalanga on Saturday, was captured on video and has since gone viral on social media.

The clip showed police walking into what appeared to be a mosque at Masibekela in the Mbuzini policing jurisdiction of Mpumalanga where shoes had been left outside.

“What’s going on here,” one officer asked?” All of you down,” another officer ordered.

“You think your president is crazy, nê,” says one of the police officers.

“You are all under arrest,” the officers shout. 

“Are you bigger than the president? Or is Muhammad bigger than the president,” ask officers.

Cele said the incident was preceded by another video that went viral, depicting a man encouraging “all Muslims ... to engage in worship in congregation”.

The Council of Muslim Theologians said in a statement that “apart from the verbal abuse which is demeaning of the name of the Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him], the SAPS officers are also seen entering the prayer room in their heavy boots. . . Such images are distressing to Muslims who consider prayer places as sacred and entered upon only without shoes.”

The council felt the police had been heavy-handed in their approach but accepted their  right to enforce the law which did not allow religious gatherings.


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