By the time you read this, it would have all been cleared up — namely, the mayhem surrounding Vice President Paul Machattel’s VIP protectors attacking and brutalizing three members of the Southeast National Defense Force, aka the Army, known as the Layabouts.
Then again, that may not have been made clear. It will probably never be made clear. We will probably never know exactly what happened, and we will remain in the state of confusion we are in now.
Well, we know the basics (seven or eight guys with hand guns and pedaling two or three guys), because we’ve seen the video. Well, I haven’t watched the video – if I want to watch man-to-man violence, I can watch Rugby or maybe World Wrestling Entertainment, although I dare say those guys at World Wrestling Entertainers aren’t real guys because they wear all kinds of funny clothes and they happen to be Such an anticipating noise as they hit each other.
We all know that real men don’t scream and grunt while being hit or, in fact, while hitting people. No, they are silent. Unless, of course, they have some political slogans that they shout in the course of their duties, or xenophobic insults that rain down blows.
So, seven or eight members of the VIP unit … and there, as you can see, the confusion begins. One news site said seven, another said eight. Eight makes sense because you have four heavy suits per car, i.e. a BMW SUV, driving at breakneck speed, flashing blue lights, on the highway from Joburg to Pretoria, to protect a vice president, a cabinet member, or whichever very important person needs such lavish protection.
Four per car, that is, and about eight cars, let’s say 36 mighty men with big guns. And these guys, let me tell you, are definitely the best team in the police service, because you can rest assured that our VIPs don’t want to be protected by any old cops. No, they only use the best players, who undoubtedly have the best training and all the other stuff, like guns, boots, etc. Protecting our VIPs is very important and requires very important protectors.
A larger budget than land reform
And so you can see why it’s so expensive, this huge job of protecting people who are so important to ourselves – the budget for the Blue Light Brigades is bigger than the government’s budget for restoring land to the disenfranchised, and it’s bigger than the budget for the Hawks, which is why they couldn’t pursue more than two or three cases. Cases of looting of state funds as revealed in the Zondo Commission.
Keeping our VIPs safe is key to the health of the nation. Those tough cops over there, and the blue light brigades that scream on our highways are over there, to uphold the dignity of the vice president, and to do that they have to uphold their dignity, which is why they have to beat up a few mere mortals. The dignity of people must always give way to the dignity of those who are required by high positions.
In any case, there is probably less confusion about the ‘why’ than there is about the ‘how’. How all this happened is still a mystery. We have not heard from the eight officers (or are they seven?) of the VIP Protection Unit accused of this crime. Not a peep. They may have been muzzled, but as South Africans we know how important it is for everyone to be able to tell their story. So I hope they will have the opportunity to do so.
They need to help us understand why they took such drastic action, why they forced another vehicle or two off the road and attacked passengers. What have they done to deserve such focused attention from gun-wielding dignitaries?
One report said they “flagged” the Vice President’s Blue Light Brigade. Does this mean that they followed closely? Have they gripped the tow hitch of a BMW SUV, while sliders grab the back of trucks to help them go faster? Perhaps, as members of our notoriously underfunded army, they were running out of petrol?
In one report it was said that they got between the wagons of the Blue Light Brigade. But they will surely know this is a bad idea, since you don’t get in between a VIP protection cop and his protection, or between a VIP protection cop and another VIP policeman, or between a VIP protection cop and his BMW SUV.
I mean, these days you wouldn’t dare meet between a Standard SAPS member and a JMPD officer, because those fellows are just as likely to be taking shots of each other, even when they’re off duty and hanging out outside the town of Shebin.
Where were Mashatel?
One report had brave and courageous VIP-protection policemen kicking hapless soldiers as they lay or crouched on the ground, while another said “stomping.” Whatever the case, we should be at least thankful, I suppose, that the important police never unloaded any of their actual weapons.
There is also confusion about whether Mr. Mchatel was present at the time of the attack. Well, it seems obvious that he wasn’t on the scene during those exact moments when the big, brave, super cool cops were doing that kicking and/or stomping, but was he part of the procession?
One report seemed to suggest the VIP cops were in a bit of fun on their own, doing some independent blue-light blinking and extreme violence, but another report hinted that the vice president was in one of his BMW SUVs with flashing lights when he approached. The soldiers bucked too much, or may have slowed down, or may have gone too fast, and the two SUVs carrying the attacking men scurried away to deal with the troublesome soldiers while the other noisy SUVs in the convoy sped off to Pretoria, and the VP headed off. The chief is far from any threat posed by two or three unarmed soldiers.
So, as you can see, there’s a lot we don’t know. We must hope that important policemen will have a chance to tell their story, and explain all these kicks and stomps. Clarity will certainly come in due time, and in the meantime we are relieved to know that our Vice President was unharmed, and in fact did not bother us in any way. That’s what we pay billions for, right? DM
Sean De Waal is a writer and editor.
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168, available nationwide for R29.