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Get beat up, the beloved country — SA’s men in high castles will not change anything

Get beat up, the beloved country — SA’s men in high castles will not change anything
iStock | Deputy President Paul Mashatile. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier)

There can be no greater symbol of the inequality and violence of our society than a group of thugs, paid by the state, beating up motorists for some imagined slight. And the ultimately devastating expectation that they are likely to get away with it.

The images of VIP Protection Unit police officers beating up three people in broad daylight on the side of a major road have sparked outrage about the repeated thuggish behaviour of those who guard our political elites. The whole horrific episode also symbolises massive problems in our troubled society and points to why some of the deepest ones are so intractable.

Despite widespread public frustration at this kind of abuse, and the cost of the VIP Protection Unit, it appears no one in the ANC has ever publicly suggested the unit, or its costs, should be reduced – which is a conundrum of its own.

Perhaps the real potency of those shocking images is that they show how unbound by any rules are our political “elites”. South Africa’s Constitution declares, “Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and the benefit of the law”… but who is defending it?

It says much about those in power, whether they be violent police officers or corrupt politicians, that they feel safe committing their criminal acts in broad daylight. And to be recorded doing so. And time after time getting away with it.

Public outrage around the VIP Protection Unit is one of the more enduring scandals of our democratic history.

Over the last few days, several media organisations have compiled lists of previous incidents where members of the unit have broken the law. Astonishingly, these lists are describing a feature of and not a glitch in our political and security setup.

Some of those violent and impudent transgressions have been truly astonishing.

From the VIP guard who shot at a motorist’s tyres, to the case where Chumani Maxwele was illegally detained overnight and forced to write a letter of apology for extending his middle finger to then president Jacob Zuma’s convoy (when the Human Rights Commission ordered the police minister at the time, Nathi Mthethwa, to apologise, he went to court to challenge the finding), to Thomas Ferreira, a young man living with brain damage after being hit by a VIP vehicle, the stories are shocking, but not surprising.

Among this was the observation, first made by Gareth van Onselen in 2018, that the government spends as much (and sometimes more) on VIP protection as it does on land reform, despite the public claims by those same politicians about how land reform is a necessity.

There is no sense of shame over this.

The symbol of the Presidential Protection Service features three swords, appearing to emerge from a triangular scabbard.

Why would the symbol of a protection unit feature weapons more prominently than a shield? Unless the aim is to explicitly show that the Presidential Protection Service is an offensive unit rather than a defensive one.

vip protectioin

There are important short-term and long-term consequences of this latest act of sheer inhumanity.

While the person the protection unit was supposed to be protecting, Deputy President Paul Mashatile, was not with the unit at the time, his reaction has been quick.

Much left unsaid

His office rushed out a statement, condemning the attack and saying that he “abhors any unnecessary use of force, particularly against civilians”.

But there is much that has been left unsaid.

For example, it is generally understood that a politician who receives protection from this unit is allowed to refuse protection from certain officers. In other words, Mashatile has the power to say that he will not accept protection from the men who committed the assault.

And yet he has not done so.

Also, his statement would have carried much more power had he looked into the nearest camera and told its microphone that he, personally, condemns the attack. And that he, personally, would never allow those guilty of the assault to be around him again.

Perhaps the fear that he would have to also take questions regarding the recent report about where he spends his time and the accommodation given to him by Edwin “Cholera” Sodi, has severely limited his ability to do this.

Also, despite the fact that once again South Africa is in an uproar over the VIP Protection Unit, there is still no serious discussion within the ANC about reducing its budget. Or its power.

Those in the ruling party are, unsurprisingly, making decisions about their own interests, rather than the interests of society at large.

There are important longer-term consequences here.

The first is obvious. Those in the government who have VIP protection have nothing to fear from crime, which probably dilutes the impetus to fight it. There may well be a direct link between our high levels of violent crime and the fact our politicians do not have to face it. (We are in this article not going to address one of SA’s most burning issues, the one of a merging of big crime and large swathes of the political elite. – Ed)

The massive social distance that was created between those who claim to be leading and those who have no choice but to be led is at the very core of SA’s many problems.

Those in power – the ministers, the Deputy President, the President – are insulated from perhaps the three worst fears of most South Africans. They do not face violent crime, load shedding or having to take a child to a hospital run by the Gauteng Health Department (or many other provincial health departments, for that matter).

A direct and personal incentive for them to attend to these problems has been almost totally removed over the years.

And the more the national situation on delivery worsens and these fundamental services fail, the greater the incentive for those in power to demand more from their generators, their medical aid, their transportation services. And the VIP Protection Unit to protect them from unhappy citizens.

And the social distance between the elites and everyone else keeps deepening.

No incentive to change

Despite repeated massive outrages over the VIP Protection Unit in the past, there is no indication that the unit or those within it are changing their behaviour. There is simply no incentive to do so.

This is a very basic failure of democratic accountability – by the officers in the VIP Protection Unit definitely, but much more by those who brought South Africa to the terrible state we’re in.

Amazingly, despite very real changes in our politics and the prospect that the ANC could lose national power next year, there is still no public evidence that those in the party understand this.

One of the problems the ANC and the government now has is the public’s immense distrust. Virtually no one outside the police has said in public they believe the officers who committed this assault will be removed from the unit and properly prosecuted.

This latest sickening event presents an opportunity for President Cyril Ramaphosa, Mashatile and others to grasp the moment and make a public example of the culprits. They could also announce wide-scale reform and reductions of the VIP Protection Unit.

Will they do this? It would be unwise to hold your breath. The ruling elite has, so far, never failed at failing… the one service they expertly deliver on. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Kelly says:

    Phew. OK. I didn’t realise how deep this ran, because normally SG bends over backwards to balance his views. This is a good thing no matter how frustating the fence sittibg might appear to be. But it appears a line has been crossed in this incident. The anger does appear to be running deep on this matter and if the cANCer do not realise it there might be further anger coming their way. Ugh.

    • Francois Smith says:

      The current SG has a typical politician’s characteristic, you know he is not telling the truth when his lips are moving. He said that Prasa will be working splendidly at the end of his tenure as Minister of Transport. It is not. He lied. The previous previous SG, G Mantashe, promised in 2016 that the ANC will retain their metros. They didn’t. He lied. Let us not mention the SG in between. The SG of the ANC consistently chooses the ANC above the country.

      • D'Esprit Dan says:

        I think he’s referring to Stephen Grootes, as SG in this instance, not Minister Fix Fokol, now SG of the ANC and who is bending over backwards to excuse the thuggery of the blue light brigade.

  • Paul T says:

    I agree with your sentiment, Stephen, except for your views on choice. We have a choice on who leads us every 5 years, individually that choice is insignificant but collectively it means everything. Its a pity so many choose to support these thugs at the ballot box, or choose to do nothing.

  • C vS says:

    Stephen, in my view there is a fourth “worst fear of most South Africans”, that of being arrested by the police and not having the money for legal defence (and not having their legal costs covered by the state).

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    I sincerely hope that the men who were assaulted get the legal aid necessary to sue the Minister of Police and his Department for this outrageous act of violence.

    • Frans Flippo says:

      I’m sure that if they started a GoFundMe for this, they would have more than the necessary funds within 24h. I am eager to do anything I can to put these thugs behind bars, and will happily put my money where my mouth is, and I’m sure many others feel the same.

  • Mike Lawrie says:

    The populous of Paris have a way of dealing with police brutality. Perhaps those in power here might put that in their pipes and smoke it before we get to that point.

  • Wilhelm van Rooyen says:

    I wonder – when CR reads this, does his head not hang in shame? Or is there none left?

  • dBritBoer Maverick says:

    Vote for Poverty
    Vote for Pit Toilets
    Vote for Putin
    Vote for Violence

  • Derek Jones says:

    It has already reached grave proportions here. Vote for us or we will cut off your grant. Vote for us or else. Vote for us or there will be trouble, is that next? Vote for us or we kill you maybe? Gag the press. Change the constitution. Arrest or beat up anyone that causes trouble. Oh wait we are there already.

    • Tony Reilly says:

      Agree 100% with you Derek. The single biggest problem is that the ANC voting cattle genuinely believe that it is the ANC who pays their grant. Unless we are able to convince them otherwise, they will merely continue to vote ANC.

  • Bruce Q says:

    Is there any way to discover if any of our illustrious leaders ever read DM?
    Do they ever watch the news on television?
    Are they at all aware of the real suffering of the “previously disadvantaged”?
    It seems to us mere mortals that they live and thrive in an alternate universe, completely unaware of the destruction and havoc they wreak on our beloved country!
    The ANC must go.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Too little has been made of the statement by Paul Mashatile that he was not in the vehicle (presumably he means not in either of the two vehicles that were involved), and therefore he is absolved of culpability, but that needs to be taken further in that, if he was not there at the time, what on earth was the blue-light convoy doing, and surely with no VIP on -board, it is an abuse of process and in fact as normal citizens they can have had no more rights than any other citizen?

    Formal charges of assault must follow and arrests be made.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Absolutely! If he wasn’t in either vehicle, they have no reason to be driving like cowboys. Attempted murder charges would be more appropriate, especially given the seriousness of the attack.

    • Enid Pretorius says:


    • h_holt says:

      Absolutely correct, Jon. Wish I had the belief that it will happen. There is no chance of that

    • Richard Bryant says:

      And the obvious question left unanswered: If Mashatile had been in the vehicle, would it then been ok to push over vehicles and beat people up? Just because his lordship was there? And in that case, would he have done anything to stop it particularly given the evidence that this is exactly what these thugs have been trained to do

    • Derek Jones says:

      Good point. the lack of as credible response from Mashatile is indicative of what he is. Useless.

    • Richard Bryant says:

      Just have a look at the emblem of putins Wagner forces. Almost identical to the emblem of the VIP unit

  • Tana Schultze says:

    Unacceptable behaviour – pure criminals – protected by criminals can only be the answer. How sad that this South Africa that we once were so proud of has fallen so far into the abyss of hell. What is the solution? No longer hope. Will need to be action.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Nothing will change until these cossetted “semi-god like” incompetents i.e. ministers including the president, deputy ministers, DG’s, mayors etc etc are made to live life like the rest of the huge majority in this country have to. They need to taste their own bitter and miserable medicine that they impose on the citizens of this country through corruption, nepotism, incompetency and arrogance. That means no more blue light brigades, generators and diesel – all paid by the long-suffering and highly abused taxpayer. Also, they and their families are forced to use public transport, public hospitals and schools. We will then witness change for a better and more caring society. It is all too easy to pay lip service to the real problems affecting this country when they are so immune to them. Alas, a pipe dream!

  • Francois Smith says:

    It is always the easy thing to do to condemn the ANC. One should condemn the voters who voted them into power too. Obviously Prahvin Gordhan that once flew on SAA in cattle class to show that he will also save money, will not go to a state run clinic. However, the majority of those who go to state run clinics, will overwhelmingly vote ANC. Thus they should also bear the brunt of their vote by having poor health, education and police services, or they can obviously change their vote.

    • Nanette JOLLY says:

      This may not be obvious to the voters. A wise man I knew said in 1994 that if you want to keep absolute power over a country, you just systematically destroy health and education for the masses. The electorate, ill and ignorant, will continue to vote for you. We have watched this happen.

  • Brian Doyle says:

    Once again there is a huge public outcry. The only way to really bring it to a head is for some organisation who has the money and willpower to lay criminal charges of assault against the perpetrators and see if we are equal under the law

  • Ernst Paul says:

    Great article!

    • Bill Gild says:


    • Bill Gild says:

      That the incident sent chills up my spine would be an understatement.
      What is not an understatement is that thuggery (and yes, thuggery includes not only physical assault) appears to permeate every level of government in this country.
      The ANC/SACP has beome nothing but a fairly typical African kleptocracy. A pox on them!

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    The fact that when there is a scandal that touches all the “VIPs” like this one, none of the others stand up and show some kind of shame and decides to do with one car and two men from the protection unit, chosen by himself. He would have an enormous success, but nobody does and that says a lot about the non-individuality of the whole bunch and their non-existing ethics.🤢

    • Bill Gild says:

      Even mentioning “ethics” in this context is as non-starter as calling for “civilised” behaviour.
      Both terms have been more or less outlawed in SA (at least at our universities) insofar as they imply colonialism and the horrible “global north”.

  • Barbwire Rich says:

    “OUR political elites” ? Ai khona, not mine!

  • Gerrie Pretorius says:

    “ The ruling elite has, so far, never failed at failing… the one service they expertly deliver on.” Best description of the anc I have read today. Well said Stephen!

  • Concerned Citizen says:

    The ANC has created a feeding trough for its cadres through positions in government and state departments. Appointees without skills, competence or the ability to run anything, other than into the ground. The only way to legitimise them is through the charade of appearing important, propped up with luxury houses, cars, clothes and their own personal goonsquads. As the incompetence becomes more and more intolerable expect the goonsquads to become more and more active as these charlatans legitimise themselves through force

  • I agree with Stephen Grootes here, but am not sure which SG is talking here – the one on SABC seems to have very different views on what he writes in the DM.

  • Vas K says:

    Great article. But to use the term “elite” even in inverted comas is not quite accurate. We are all victims of the ruling mafia. Literally. And as a good mafia should, they surounded themselves with hitmen. This puts everything in the perspective, I think. You can’t reform mafias, you must destroy them.

  • Timothy G says:

    Why every one of these incidents, along with obvious corruption, ineptitude and maladministration are not used successfully by opposition parties to further their causes, speaks either to their own ineptitude as political parties or a total lack of understanding of the voting proletariat of the power that they have to make things better for themselves. Sadly, I think it is the latter (or at least I hope it is).

  • lottinoleonardo says:

    The youngsters that were brutally assaulted were SADF army recruits? The top structures of the SADF is in all probability going to get involved here to save the day… they are in cohoots somehow and will most properly offer money and promotions for them to shut up!!!

  • Johann Olivier says:

    Well. Now my pleasure at their comeuppance in Poland is even more accentuated. They probably behaved there as they would’ve in South Africa and Wallies W*****s were properly kicked in their rear ends. Ah, the unalloyed joy!

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