South Africa's Zuma hits out at 'trigger-happy' police

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South African President Jacob Zuma hit out at "trigger-happy" police in an interview published on Saturday, following the deaths of at least nine people since January at the hands of police cracking down on protests.

Public anger has mounted against the hard-handed police force in the run-up to a May 7 general election as Africa's largest economy faces a wave of protests over wages and shoddy public services.

"No I am not happy, I don't think anyone can be with trigger-happy police.

It's not good at all," Mr Zuma said in an interview with the Independent Newspapers Group.

"The police need to be trained, specifically trained, particularly dealing with a country that is prone to protest. You need to be ready for that." Mr Zuma's comments came as mining firm Anglo American Platinum confirmed one of its striking workers - a local union leader - died in clashes with police at its operations in the northern province of Limpopo on Friday.

Seven others were shot dead in separate protests while another was allegedly pushed from a police van, according to police sources. A police watchdog is probing all the cases.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has blamed the crackdowns on violent protesters saying "the level of dangerous weapons that police have to face is extreme." South Africa's northern platinum belt has been the scene of work-related bloodshed since 34 platinum miners were shot dead by police during a strike at Lonmin's Marikana mine in August 2012.

Rampant inequality, unemployment and poverty have seen a sharp rise in protests over municipal services and wage strikes.

Mr Zuma also raised concern about the violent nature of the protests.

"You had miners on strike carrying every other weapon, actually ready to kill. In fact they had killed 10 people before the police shot at people," Mr Zuma said referring to the Marikana killings.

"If we just criticise the police only and not talk about violent protest, I think we are missing the point."

"Because police understand democracy they walk innocently to people who are protesting. What do they come across? People who have stones, with implements, burning tyres, blocking roads, whatever," he said.

"What we have not addressed as a country is the culture and the legacy of apartheid violence." Violent protests had marked the twilight years of white-minority rule, and their recurrence twenty years into democracy signal an end to the honeymoon period for Mr Zuma's ruling African National Congress (ANC).