DM168

AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

SA’s blue-light spending spree on political VIPs ‘is jeopardising visible policing and crime-fighting’

SA’s blue-light spending spree on political VIPs ‘is jeopardising visible policing and crime-fighting’
Illustrative image: Shattered glass; BMW X5. (Graphic: Jocelyn Adamson)

Earlier this week, the ANC-EFF coalition in Joburg, together with minor parties, decided to spend R3m a month on VIP protection. Politicians also received 40 cars from the fleet of the Joburg Metropolitan Police Department. These cars are intended to be used for controlling traffic, enforcing bylaws and helping with crime prevention. It has also come to light that the City of Johannesburg is spending more on VIP bodyguards than any other city in South Africa, even as its finances are in trouble.

In the wake of a shocking spending splurge on additional VIP protection by the City of Johannesburg (CoJ), Daily Maverick has learnt that a security risk assessment, which is a requirement for VIP protection to be provided, has not been carried out by the metro.

Additionally, the ever-increasing number of police officers being assigned to VIP services is having a negative impact on visible policing and crime-fighting in Joburg and across the country.

Belinda Kayser-Echeozonjoku, the Jo­­han­­­nesburg DA caucus leader, dropped this bombshell during an interview with Daily Maverick in which she outlined why her party’s caucus voted against the exorbitant expanded protection services.

The revised policy, called the Protection and Security for VIP Risk Management System, falls under the Johannesburg public safety department, which is headed by member of the mayoral committee for public safety Mgcini Tshwaku of the EFF.

Speaking to Daily Maverick on Wednesday, 10 April, Kayser-Echeozonjoku said: “The security risk assessment has not been done. We believe the CoJ [is] currently frantically trying to do security assessments because they know that we are aware that they are in violation of the upper limits. It is unheard of that chairpersons of committees get councillor protection prior to a risk assessment getting done.”

More concerning, she said that members of the Gauteng cooperative governance and traditional affairs department raised this concern in January.

“We were in possession [of data] and saw something circulating [on] one of my groups. We have seen the letter that the Speaker of council had been informed that they are in violation of the upper limits.

“That letter was sent in January 2024 and their response was basically to come up with a policy to try to justify what they have already done in violation,” she explained.

Upper limits, as they are known, are the highest salary, allowance or benefits bands for the different members of municipal councils.

Kayser-Echeozonjoku said the CoJ had adjusted the VIP spend, in the wake of a revenue decline from R83-billion to R76-billion, but did not show where the money was coming from.

She also stated that, though the VIP protection policy provides for the city manager to be protected, the DA, when it was the party in government, had only provided him with protection after there had been a safety risk. A group of people stormed into his office, which prompted an assessment that concluded he needed protection.

This is unlike the blanket VIP protection that exists today, she added.

The DA further contended that there is an existing councillor protection policy that covers councillors outside the executive. Kayser-Echeozonjoku underlined the VIP protection the CoJ has now amended, which gives some chairpersons VIP protection, whereas the multiparty government never allowed this because it went above the upper limits.

“We never provided protection to chairpersons of a committee. That is why there is councillor protection. The DA believes the money should be spent on service delivery. The city is collapsing and money should not be spent on protecting politicians,” she told Daily Maverick.

On a national level, the Hawks received R2.25-billion last year whereas VIP protection services received R3.76-billion, according to the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).

Kayser-Echeozo­njoku said: “We, as the DA, were completely against that. You should be spending money on service delivery and crime prevention, and not on politicians that want to drive around protecting themselves from the very same people who had elected them.

“It is unacceptable that people like the Hawks don’t have the budget, yet politicians have bodyguards. Money should be spent on service delivery and not on politicians who want to look fancy and run away from the people who elected them.”

Anti-crime activists as well as Outa and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) condemned the move.

Outa expressed concerns about VIP protection training and execution. Its spokesperson, Wayne Duvenage, referred to the viral video in which Deputy President Paul Mashatile’s VIP protection unit was captured punching and kicking four occupants of a car.

The ISS says it is disproportionate and cannot be justified that the Hawks received a much smaller portion of the budget compared with the blue-light brigade.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 20: Panyaza Lesufi (Gauteng Premier) and Kabelo Gwamanda (Executive Mayor of Joburg) at the unveiling of the Fluerhof Substation on March 20, 2024 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The substation which is the most technologically advanced in the country, will provide over 25 000 residents with power supply. (Photo by Gallo Images/Luba Lesolle)

Kabelo Gwamanda (left), the executive mayor of Joburg, and Panyaza Lesufi, the Gauteng premier, at the unveiling of a substation on 20 March. The mayor has been assigned 10 bodyguards. (Photo: Luba Lesolle / Gallo Images)

The cost of high-level protection

Earlier this week, the ANC-EFF coalition in Joburg, together with minor parties, decided to spend R3-million a month on VIP protection. Politicians also received 40 cars from the fleet of the Joburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD). These cars are intended to be used for controlling traffic, enforcing bylaws and helping with crime prevention.

It has also come to light that the CoJ is spending more on VIP bodyguards than any other city in South Africa, even as its finances are in trouble.

Executive mayor Kabelo Gwamanda of the three-seat Al Jama-ah party will have 10 bodyguards, five per shift, from the JMPD and three cars in his convoy. Daily Maverick understands a total of eight cars from the JMPD fleet are allocated to him.

By comparison, Joburg’s former mayor, Mpho Phalatse, had eight bodyguards, four per shift, and Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis also has four per shift.

This expenditure by the CoJ occurs despite strong opposition from the DA and in the context of Joburg’s continuing water shortages, City Power’s electricity cuts – frequently worse than Eskom’s – and the city’s high crime rate.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA ñ OCTOBER 22: A shootout between police and a taxi driver erupted on the M1 South highway on October 22, 2013 near Joe Slovo Drive in Johannesburg, South Africa. Police responded to a commotion at Pretoria taxi rank which resulted in the taxi driver fleeing the scene and a high speed car chase ensued. Police were able to apprehend the taxi driver who was shot and injured in his upper leg. The shootout resulted in the highway being closed. Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Felix Dlangamandla

More metro cops are being assigned to VIP services, which has a negative impact on crime-fighting in Johannesburg. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Foto24 / Gallo Images)

Outrage

Those vehicles and personnel are needed on the streets to fight crime. The 2023 third-quarter crime statistics show that Gauteng districts fill all but one of the top 12 spots for truck hijackings (number one belongs to Swartkops in the Nelson Mandela District, Eastern Cape).

Upon learning about the budget for VIP protection services, Imraahn Mukaddam, an anti-crime activist and spokesperson for the Elsies River Community Policing Forum in Cape Town, was outraged.

“I think the most striking reality when you look at the enormous amount that’s being spent on VIP protection is the value they place on the lives of the politicians who are supposed to make our lives better, as opposed to the average citizen,” Mukaddam told Daily Maverick. “We have to consider whether our lives as ordinary citizens are worth so little that so much money can be spent on VIP protection.”

According to Mukaddam, volunteer neighbourhood watch members patrol the gang-ridden streets of Elsies River, one of the crime hotspots in the Western Cape, late at night and early in the morning to ensure the community’s safety. Some of the members, he added, were killed or in­jured in the line of duty, and no one from the government contributed to their burial or medical expenses.

“What we, as neighbourhood watch members, are asking is a drop in the ocean in comparison to the billions spent on VIP protection. A bulletproof vest or a burial fund for neighbourhood watch members would be beneficial when venturing out on dangerous streets.

“We are doing it as volunteers with no expectation of remuneration, but we are also putting ourselves at risk. It demonstrates where the priorities lie from our perspective as community crime-fighters. We are in the same space but we are not recognised, and there is no cover for us,” he emphasised.

Adding his voice, anti-crime activist Yusuf Abramjee stated that citizens come first, adding: “Yes, [VIPs] should be protected and have all necessary security measures in place, but the millions and billions … spent are a waste of money.

“The money should be spent more productively to improve service delivery, to protect ordinary citizens, and I believe it is really a waste of money when it comes to allocation of VIP protection. There should be a review.

“They should look at it very closely, and I would even go as far as to say that the Auditor-General should be probing to see if the funds are used correctly.”

Another crime-fighter, Hanif Loonat, believes that some of the billions spent on VIPs could be better spent combating corruption in the South African Police Service (SAPS) and rooting out officers who collude with gangsters.

Loonat told Daily Maverick that if some of the billions spent on VIP protection were directed to the underresourced SAPS and Hawks, it would go a long way towards combating crime. “My concern is that we must eradicate corruption in the police force. The more new recruits join SAPS, the more corrupt officers we produce, because corrupt old guys influence the new lot and they rise to station level.

“I’ve seen how the new kids on the block in policing are being encouraged into corruption,” he said.

The issue of police corruption and alleged collusion with gangsters was highlighted in a judgment handed down in October 2022 in the Western Cape Division of the High Court in Cape Town, in which Judge Daniel Thulare stated that evidence points to 28 gangsters having wormed their way into Western Cape police management, gaining access to crime intelligence reports and meetings in which policing strategies are discussed.

Anti-crime activist Yusuf Abramjee during a media briefing at the National Press Club on the spate of kidnappings on 18 January 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa. The panel, including experts in criminal law, discussed the recent kidnappings, possible trends and what needs to be done to curb this problem. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

Underresourced cops

The Hawks’ inability to combat organised crime was highlighted in a recent parliamentary reply by Police Minister Bheki Cele, who stated that the elite unit, officially known as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, has only 18.2% of the ideal complement of serious corruption investigators, 27% of commercial crime investigators, and 44.7% of the required organised crime investigators.

The SAPS 2022/23 annual report paints an even bleaker picture, indicating that the K9 dog unit is understaffed by 30.8%, the water wing – in effect, divers – is at a dismal 1.1% of the ideal complement, and the air wing is at 50%. As of August 2023, the flying squad had 32.6% of its ideal complement of police officers, the anti-gang unit had 42.4%, and the 10111 call centres had only 40.5% of the proper staffing requirements.

Protection based on information

Willem Els, senior training coordinator at the ISS, called the CoJ’s allocation of R3-million a month to VIP services “extremely excessive”.

“Whenever one plans and works on VIP protection, you should work on intelligence-informed analysis and that should inform your level of protection.

“If a minister, for example, has to travel to Bela-Bela, then the team has to sit the day before, gather all intelligence on the route, do a risk analysis and, based on that analysis, they have to adapt the security level of the convoys,” he said.

Els said this is not happening because it seems VIP protection has become more of a show of power, influence and prestige, rather than for what it is there for – the protection of the VIP. There also seems to be a woeful lack of data to work out the levels of necessary protection.

He speculated that they perhaps don’t want to do an analysis because it is simply easier to keep the VIP service on an extremely high level, then it becomes a modus operandi every time they travel.

“That is not how your VIP protection unit is supposed to work. It is supposed to be intelligence-informed and must be analysed and acted on. Otherwise, your budget is going to skyrocket,” he stated.

Duvenhage also wonders about the level of training these VIP protection units have undergone, especially in terms of their obligations to society and how to manage difficult situations, which include being goaded or mocked. “You cannot have … an emotional outburst,” he explained.

“We have to ask ourselves what are we spending this money on because we get the sense that there are far too many of these protection units, not only the formal ones at Cabinet level, but it goes right down to municipal level where we see mayors driving around with vehicles escorting them from place to place.”

He said the entire funding of safety and security is probably a topic that needs to be discussed at multi-stakeholder level because it isn’t working anywhere down the line.

“We do not have safety and security,” he said. “The allocation of more money spent on VIP protection says they really don’t care about the safety and security of individuals, but [only] about the safety and security of politicians.” DM

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

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Kelly says:

    Disgaree with Yusuf. If politicians require protection over and above the same that I require they can pay for it themselves and claim it back as a tool of trade from SARS. Speaking of which, why does SARS not alloe every South African paying for their own protection a tax deduction? Speaking of which where is Kieswetter in all of this? No doubt behind his own taxpayer funded protection team the hypocrit.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    All the VIP protection in the world won’t stop us from voting these corrupt scum out of office. The ballot is more powerful than the bullet!

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      This is singly the most important comment ever posted in this newspaper.

      This is our chance. Don’t be blind, don’t be scared. Don’t be lazy. Vote for change in 2924, and encourage everyone you come into contact with to do the same. In power together the two letters: “D” and “A” can change every single one of our lives for the better.

  • jacki watts says:

    I despair…..

  • James Baxter says:

    I am a boy from township but I have realised that DA is the most intelligent party in SA. I hope more voters vote for DA in the coming elections. I have followed Scandinavian countries for a while, and these countries don’t treat their political leaders and parliamentary people like royalty. A president travel everyday in Scandinavian countries on bicycle or train with normal Scandinavians. And Scandinavia as a block is very wealthy, everyone is happy despite the exorbitant tax paid. Please let us vote for DA guyz, DA is very cool, cool like a cucumber. Imagine DA running SA, we would not have political leaders living like king Solomon on your tax money. DA is our saviour, look at EFF, small party that runs Jozi, ANC, these three parties show that African leaders are only concerned with living like royalty. But white guyz like Zille are very stoic, they don’t like to be treated like kings and queens, they are the future of SA. Vote for Zille please, make her president I beg of you, give DA one term in government, they will stop blue light, they will stop Zuma, they will stop my friend, they will stop borderline problems. DA is like girl who passed with seven distinction in matric, not in religious studies and life orientation, no, seven distinction in geometry, trigonometry, chemistry, algebra, real subjects. Subjects that build country. Not subject taught in township matric like life orientation. I am sure the mayor of Jozi has a distinction in life orientation, that is why

  • Grumpy Old Man says:

    It won’t be long before they are requesting bodyguard protection for the bodyguards!

  • anton kleinschmidt says:

    When will the media throw their weight behind the DA?

  • Mike Spencer says:

    Politicians should pay for their own protection.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    There is no question that the value of VIP protection is a fringe benefit paid by the employer (taxpayer in this case) and is fully taxable as income.

    SARS first started adding the value of these services as a fringe benefit for Saffers in the private sector working in places like Nigeria. But the principle is exactly the same. It would be interesting to know whether SARS is applying this across the board and if not, why not.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Ruling with impunity,gangster state,captured.Vote the criminals out please!!!

  • Neil T. says:

    If the politicians and councillors in this country did a better job doing what they are all being overpaid to do, then 99.5% of them wouldn’t need VIP protection units to guard and protect them.

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