/ 5 July 2023

Four VIP officers in assault video served with suspension notices

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Deputy President Paul Mashatile. (Leon Sadiki/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Suspension notices have been served on four members of the VIP protection unit who are also subjects of an internal police investigation after allegedly assaulting military trainees on the N1 in Johannesburg on Monday.  

The protection unit is part of the security detail of Deputy President Paul Mashatile.

“In terms of the SAPS [South African Police Service] disciplinary regulations, four members have been served with notices of the employer’s intention to suspend,” the national spokesperson for police, Brigadier Athlenda Mathe, told the Mail & Guardian

The four VIP officers will be given an opportunity to present reasons “they should not be suspended under the circumstances. [The] representation will be considered and [the] outcome will be communicated to them,” Mathe said. 

The South African National Defence Union has confirmed that the victims of the assault are members of the national defence force and one is also a union member.  

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) previously said the victims were military trainees who at the time needed to get permission from their commander before opening a case against the VIP officers. 

According to a statement released by the union, the victims were interviewed by Ipid on Tuesday afternoon and were advised “to refrain from engaging any SAPS officers while the Ipid investigation is conducted”. 

The defence force is yet to confirm whether the victims are military trainees, national spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said on Wednesday morning. 

Responding to whether the defence force had offered assistance to the victims, Dlamini said “the responsible authority [the police] has dealt with the matter sufficiently”. 

The police said on Monday that an “internal departmental investigation is underway”. 

According to the union, the victims were driving from Johannesburg to Pretoria when a black SUV appeared next to their vehicle and one of the occupants pointed a firearm at them. 

“The victims’ vehicle was subsequently boxed in by more SUVs and forced, in formation, to the left side of the N1 highway,” said the union. 

“The occupants of the SUV exited their vehicles surrounding the victims’ vehicle and attempted to smash the windscreen of the victims’ vehicle. Upon not being successful in that attempt, the assailants proceeded to smash the back window of the victims’ vehicle and assault the occupants of that vehicle.” 

A video clip shows the officers assaulting the trainees next to the highway. One trainee was left unconscious after a kick to the head before the VIP officers retreated to their vehicles and drove off. 

The incident has evoked widespread reaction from the public, civil lobby groups and opposition parties. 

The civil rights organisation AfriForum demanded “a speedy investigation” into the incident while the leader of the Freedom Front Plus, Pieter Groenewald, condemned the VIP members’ conduct and raised questions about their level of training and professionalism. 

“It is unacceptable for members of a specialist unit to act in such a deplorable manner by dragging people from their vehicles and assaulting them,” Groenewald said in a statement. “It creates a security risk for the person they are supposed to be protecting. Decisive action must be taken against those involved.” 

Groenewald, who serves on the parliamentary portfolio committee for the police, said he would ask the committee to follow up on the matter and to allow Police Minister Bheki Cele to “explain why the members acted so aggressively”.

“Government’s blue-light convoys already have a bad name among members of the public, and what transpired here must not be tolerated.”