South Africa


Very Important Mystery shrouds those men with boots and guns

Very Important Mystery shrouds those men with boots and guns
Very Important Mystery shrouds those men with boots and guns. (Photo: iStock)

We know some things, but not many, about the blue-light-brigade heavies from Deputy President Paul Mashatile’s convoy who ‘stomped’ a group of cowering unfortunates at the roadside. If only they could speak.

By the time you read this, it all could have been clarified – that is, the mess to do with Deputy President Paul Mashatile’s VIP protectors attacking and brutalising three members of the SA National Defence Force, otherwise known as the army, otherwise known as layabouts.

Then again, maybe it won’t have been clarified. Maybe it will never be clarified. Maybe we’ll never know precisely what happened, and we’ll remain in the confused state we are now.

Okay, we know the basics (seven or eight besuited men with guns manually and pedally assault two or three young men), because we’ve seen the video. Well, I haven’t seen the video – if I want to watch man-on-man violence I can watch the rugby or perhaps World Wrestling Entertainment, though I dare say those World Wrestling Entertainers aren’t real men because they wear all sorts of funny clothes and make such a darned noise while they’re beating each other up.

We all know real men don’t squeak and grunt while they’re getting beaten up or, indeed, while they’re beating people up. No, they’re silent. Unless, naturally, they have some political slogans to shout in the course of their duties, or xenophobic curses to rain down with the blows.

So seven or eight members of the VIP Protection Unit… And there, you see, confusion sets in. One news site said seven, another said eight. Eight makes sense because you’d have four heavyset suits per car, that is per BMW SUV, driving at a ridiculous speed, blue lights flashing, down the highway from Joburg to Pretoria, to protect the Deputy President or member of the Cabinet or whichever Very Important Person needs such lavish protection.

Four per car, that is, and about eight cars, so let’s say 36 large men with large guns. And these guys, let me tell you, are surely the crème de la crème of the police service, because you can rest assured our VIPs don’t want to be protected by any old rank-and-file members of the constabulary. No, they only use the top guys, who have doubtless had the top training and all the other top stuff, like top guns, top boots, and so on. The protection of our VIPs is Very Important, and requires Very Important Protectors.

Bigger budget than land reform

Thus you can see why it’s so expensive, this massive task of protecting our very self-important people – the budget for the blue-light brigades is larger than that of the government budget for restoring land to the dispossessed, and it’s greater than the budget for the Hawks, which is why they haven’t been able to follow up on more than two or three of the cases of looting of state funds as revealed at the Zondo Commission.

Keeping our VIPs safe is key to the health of the nation. Those burly cops are there, and the blue-light brigades screaming down our highways are there, to maintain the dignity of the Deputy President, and to do that they have to maintain their own dignity, and for that reason they have to beat up a few lesser mortals. The dignity of the people must always give way to the dignity of those whose high positions require it.

At any rate, there’s possibly less confusion about the “why” than there is about the “how”. How it all happened is still obscure. We haven’t heard from the eight (or is it seven?) officers of the VIP Protection Unit who are accused of this crime. Not a peep. Perhaps they’ve been gagged, but as South Africans we know how important it is for everyone to be able to tell their own story. So I hope that they will get a chance 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 the occupants. What had they done to deserve such focused attention from the VIP guys with guns?

One report said they’d “tagged” the Deputy President’s blue-light brigade. Does that mean they followed too closely? Did they grab the tow hitch of one of the BMW SUVs, as skateboarders grab the back of trucks, to help them go faster? Perhaps, as members of our notoriously underfunded military, they were running out of petrol?

It was said in one report they’d got in between vehicles of the blue-light brigade. But surely they would know that that’s a bad idea, given you don’t get in between a VIP-protecting cop and his protectee, or between a VIP-protecting cop and another VIP-protecting cop, or between a VIP-protecting cop and his BMW SUV.

I mean, these days you dare not get between a standard SAPS member and an officer of the JMPD, because those colleagues are likely to be taking potshots at each other, even when they’re off duty and lounging about outside a township shebeen.

Where was Mashatile?

One report had those big, brave VIP-protecting cops kicking the unfortunate soldiers as they lay or crouched on the ground, whereas another said “stomping”. Whichever the case, we should at least be grateful, I suppose, that the VIP cops didn’t discharge any of their actual weapons.

There’s also confusion about whether Mr Mashatile was there at the time of the assault. Well, it seems clear he wasn’t on the scene during those precise moments that the big, brave, glamorous VIP cops were doing that kicking and/or stomping, but was he part of the motorcade?

One report seemed to indicate that the VIP cops were out on a frolic of their own, doing some freelance blue-light-flashing and ultraviolence, but another report hinted that the Deputy President had been in one of the BMW SUVs with flashing lights when the offending soldiers got too close, or perhaps went too slow, or perhaps went too fast, and the two SUVs carrying the assault guys peeled off to deal with the pesky soldiers while the other roaring SUVs of the motorcade sped onwards to Pretoria, whisking the Deputy President far away from any threat posed by two or three unarmed soldiers.

So, you see, there’s much we don’t know. We have to hope those VIP cops get a chance to tell their story, and to explain all that kicking and stomping. Clarity will surely emerge in due course, and in the meantime we bask in the relief of knowing our Deputy President came to no harm, and indeed was not inconvenienced in any way. That’s what we pay billions for, no? DM

Shaun de Waal is a writer and editor.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


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