Alfred Moselakgomo

Two police officers are in hot water after making a mistake that resulted in the escape of four suspects from police cells.

They are members of the Mpumalanga police and are stationed at the Pilgrim's Rest police station near Lydenburg.

Over the weekend, one of the officers entered a police holding cell with his service pistol.

The cell housed eight dangerous criminals.

According to head count procedures, when an officer enters a cell to count the prisoners, he should not be armed. The other officer should be armed and should be on guard outside.

"We have no idea why the officer went into the cell armed," said police spokesperson Herbert Manyike.

"While the officer was inside, the four suspects overpowered him and disarmed him. They ordered the other guard into the cell before locking them inside.

"They then made off with both service pistols and the cell keys," said Manyike.

The suspects have been identified as Nico Boyzen Mkhonto, 33, Tshepo Mnisi, 26, Lucky Maphanga, 30, and Jan Sibanyoni, 26.

The four were awaiting trial dates for housebreaking and robbery. They were until recently being held in Lydenburg but because of overcrowding there had been moved to Pilgrim's Rest.

"We appeal to the community not to approach the suspects but to contact their local police," Manyike said.

Manyike said an investigation as to whether the escape was an inside job was under way.