Flashing Red Lights for the Blue Light Brigade

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation, on 25/07/2023


On Sunday 23 July, eight Presidential Protection Services (PPS) police officers were arrested for brutally assaulting three off-duty members of the SANDF on the N1 highway in Gauteng. The incident, which was captured on video, shocked millions of South Africans. 

Deputy President Paul Mashatile confirmed that the members of the VIP Protection Unit or “blue light brigade” involved in the assault were attached to his detail. However, his insistence that he was not in the convoy at the time of the incident has been questioned by the testimony of one of the arrested policemen who appeared in court on Monday, 24 July. This raises questions regarding the veracity of the man who is widely regarded as the front-runner in the race to succeed President Ramaphosa.

The SAPS unit transports and protects top government officials and is equipped with flashing blue lights and sirens to ease their way through traffic. According to the Daily Maverick, “they’re regularly accused of speeding, tailgating, overtaking recklessly and intimidating other drivers”.

The incident has focused attention on the broader role of SAPS in violating human rights – and on the problems encountered by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) in investigating abuses by the police. It is deeply troubling that such abuses cost the State over R837 million in civil claims between April 2020 and March 2022 – including an increase of 58% in claims in 2021/22 compared with the previous year.

According to IPID’s 2023/24 performance plan: “Over the years, IPID has not been able to cope with the increasing workload due to limited resources… The assault cases contribute 66% (9 344) of the workload; followed by 14% (2 043) of discharge of an official arm, and 8% (1 060) of death as a result of police action and torture with 6% (818)”. However, very few IPID investigations result in prosecutions.

News24 reports that of the 2093 recommendations made to the NPA by IPID, “1347 were still awaiting a response, 684 were declined for prosecution, 53 were prosecuted and 9 were withdrawn. This was a prosecution rate of 3%”. 

While the arrest of the officers involved in this assault is welcomed, it is now up to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Courts to ensure that justice is achieved and seen to be done.

The eight accused remain suspended with full pay while the case unfolds before the Randburg Magistrates’ Court. The FW de Klerk Foundation will continue to monitor the case to ensure that those in positions of power are held accountable for their actions.


Image ©️ Tebogo Letsie: Gallo Images