The brutality of the Presidential Protection Unit reflects widespread police impunity

The brutality of the Presidential Protection Unit reflects widespread police impunity

The assault of three car occupants by security officers of the Presidential Protection Unit (PPU) assigned to Vice President Paul Machatel sparked widespread outrage. Main political Concerts It also condemned Sunday 2 July attacks.

Read more at The Daily Maverick: Eight VIP protection officers have been arrested after an assault on the Gauteng Expressway

The scandalous bullying shown was caught on video by a witness, which attracted a high level of interest across the country. It reflects the anger generated by road users, many of whom have faced aggressive behavior and bullying by blue light VIP protection motorists. Over the years, the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) VIP Protection Unit, which includes the PPU, has been associated with numerous incidents in which citizens have been intimidated or assaulted.

This aggressive behavior continues through one-sided traffic systems that require the public to give way to police or other emergency vehicles. This includes vehicles that display a flashing blue light, even if they are not clearly recognizable. On the main roads surrounding the capital, Pretoria, there are a large number of vehicles of this type.

Mashatile was not in the car when the accident occurred. This indicates that police protection units believe they can force cars off the road and treat road users with contempt even when not performing duties that may require ignoring road regulations.

image and position

at recent days interviewFormer Palestine Polytechnic University member Rory Stein said this kind of behavior reflected badly on both the units and the commanders who protected them. Stein served in the unit during Nelson Mandela’s presidency and said that at the time, there was a strong awareness that “any action we take would … [the] The reputation, image and legacy of our principal.

Hate towards the VIP protection unit, and in general disappointment With South Africa’s political leadership, it is also reflected in questions about unit financing. Public spending on protecting VIPs has become enormous swellAnd While ordinary citizens of South Africa are besieged from crime. The resources of these units must be checked. But the public is likely to be less concerned about the security spending of leaders who truly serve the public interest.

Members of these protection units are likely to have an exaggerated sense of importance and, behind the darkened windows of their cars, largely escape public scrutiny or accountability. The video showing their actions on the N1 highway is a rare example where their shield of invulnerability and anonymity has been breached.

It is unclear if these officers are subject to any form of serious accountability within SAPS. National Commissioner Fanny Masimula deserves commendation for his company condemnation of their behaviour. He also acknowledged the unit’s widespread problem, saying he had directed the relevant police department chiefs to “retrain” and “talk over” VIP protection members.

But the consistent pattern of such cases suggests that more action is needed. The accountability of members of these units should be greatly enhanced to stop abusive behaviour.

Accountability and authority

It is not just the SAPS VIP Protection Unit that needs to be checked. The PPU is an elite unit, and if its members were involved in gratuitous bullying, that raises questions about SAPS as a whole. It’s not just the VIP unit that enjoys this kind of anonymity and impunity.

The lack of accountability for abuse of power runs through many SAPS. Existing internal and external accountability mechanisms do little to mitigate the problem. One reflection of the scale of violations is R2.3 billion It is paid out of taxpayer money to victims who filed civil cases against police between 2018 and 2022. This is 52% higher than the previous five years.

In cases of police brutality, the public’s attention tends to focus on the individual officers and the type of consequences they should face. While police brutality in South Africa occurs relatively frequently, PPU attacks are among the uncommon instances in which severe disciplinary action and criminal penalties may be imposed on the police involved. Given the seemingly obvious nature of the video evidence, it can be difficult for these members to convincingly plead their innocence.

This distinguishes PPU assault from most cases of police brutality. Even other known cases where video evidence was available, such as the 2021 killing Mthokozisi Ntumba2012 Marikana massacreor kill 2011 Andres TataniIt did not result in a disciplinary or criminal penalty against any of the police personnel involved.

This not only highlights a police culture that encourages “turning a blind eye” to brutality and other wrongdoing, but the broader limitations of SAPS systems for managing member behavior.

The abuses committed by the VIP unit highlight the police’s failure to address abuse of force in a sustained and committed manner. Not only the VIP protection unit, but the entire police service must do more to win back the respect of the public. This requires an unequivocal commitment to ensuring that the SAPS name becomes synonymous with high standards of behaviour. DM

David Bruce is an independent researcher and consultant, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Pretoria.

Research for this article was funded by the Hannes Seidl Foundation and the Bavarian State Chancellery.

It was first published by ISS today.


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