/ 6 July 2023

Quite concerning, Masemola says of VIP assault

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National Police Commissioner Fanie Masemola.

Fannie Masemola, the national police commissioner, described the conduct of the VIP protection unit members who were captured on video assaulting three military trainees on the side of the N1 in Johannesburg as “quite concerning”. 

The South African Police Service is in the process of engaging with members of its protection and security services unit to improve relations between them and the public, Masemola said at a media briefing on Thursday.

“We generally follow a very stringent process to identify members that should be protecting our principals, so for those members to have conducted themselves in such a manner, is quite concerning,” he said. 

Referring to the policy which governs VIP protectors’ conduct when on duty, Masemola said officers must show “professionalism, discipline, politeness, enthusiasm and high ethical conduct, at all times prioritising the safety of their principals”.

The state’s VIP protection unit, also known as the blue-light brigade, was again thrust into the spotlight this week after the video showing VIP officers assaulting military trainees went viral on social media. 

Eight VIP protection members, and not four as previously indicated by police, have been served with suspension notices after being identified on Monday. This particular protection unit was part of the security detail of Deputy President Paul Mashatile.

On Thursday, Masemola confirmed that the members had been temporarily removed from their posts pending an internal disciplinary investigation. A criminal case had also been opened against the men. 

The matter is being investigated by police watchdog the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid). 

Masemola declined to answer when questioned at the briefing about why the officers — who could be seen pointing firearms at the three victims — were not immediately arrested. Instead, the commissioner referred the question to Ipid, which was not at the briefing. 

When asked to explain why they had not been arrested, Ipid national spokesperson Robbie Raburabu told the Mail & Guardian that they still needed to get medical records from the victims and that Ipid “investigates before we arrest”. 

Ipid opened a case of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, malicious damage to property and pointing a firearm on Tuesday night. 

Action Society’s Ian Cameron said that a charge of attempted murder should also be investigated. According to Cameron, Ipid filed only one charge after interviewing one of the victims, L’vaughn Fisher. The video capturing the assault shows how members of the unit kicked Fisher in the head before leaving him unconscious next to the road.  

In a statement on Wednesday, Action Society said it would assist Fisher with criminal and possibly civil charges against the officers. 

“Fisher had to receive further medical attention today. He still has pain and is finding it difficult to open his swollen jaw. He has various bruises where he was kicked on his head and in his face,” read the statement. 

To “rectify” the incident, Masemola said he had directed the divisional commissioner of protection and security services, including the human resources development, to identify areas to “retrain” and “talk” to members of protection services. 

“Do sessions with them and go and talk to them to improve the relations between them and the community [and], at the same time, ask the communities to work and cooperate with the police at all times.”

He said discussions would take place across all provinces and not only in Gauteng where the incident took place. 

Masemola concluded by pointing out that regulations 176 and 185 of the National Road Traffic Regulations of 2000 allow members “to use blue lights and sirens if necessary in order to execute his/her duties”.