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SAToday - Reining in the "blue-light-bullies"

Helen Zille, Leader of the Democratic Alliance
21 November 2008

Last Saturday, Constable Hlanganani Nxumalo, a VIP protection officer for KwaZulu-Natal Social Development MEC Meshack Radebe, shot the tyre of a Mazda that did not move out of his way quickly enough as he raced along the N3 towards Waterfall to collect his boss.

The Mazda's tyre blew; the car veered into oncoming traffic; it collided head-on with a bakkie; and in the ensuing chaos, eight people were injured.

The driver of the vehicle meanwhile barely paused to glance in his rear-view mirror. With his foot flat on the accelerator and his blue light flashing, he fled the scene of the accident. He did not stop to survey the damage. He did not rush to the aid of his victims. He simply sped off.

This is the most recent manifestation of criminal behaviour by the so-called "blue-light bullies" - the VIP protection units that zig-zag in front of and behind the vehicles that transport executive officials to their public (and, often, private) engagements. In September, a 52-year-old woman from Cato Ridge was forced off the road by a vehicle with flashing blue lights. Its occupants made her pull over, and proceeded to assault her.

This is pure power abuse. It is criminal behaviour. It is the clearest manifestation of a culture that has taken hold of the ANC. Believing they represent the will of the people, ANC leaders and their army of bodyguards believe that they don't have to obey laws. These only apply to "other people". It is an example set by ANC President, Jacob Zuma. Almost every time he opens his mouth, he shows his contempt for the Constitution, whether he is talking about teenage pregnancy, suspects in criminal cases, or school prayers. This attitude is conveyed in practical ways as well, including his use of vehicles.

Zuma is well known for enjoying ostentatious displays of power and self-aggrandisement. Earlier this week, a newspaper reported that he travelled in a convoy of 33 vehicles while campaigning in Limpopo. Even though Zuma is not a public office-bearer, 22 of these vehicles belonged to state law enforcement agencies, and the whole cavalcade stretched for over a kilometre. Traffic officers forced traffic in both directions off the road; crossings on the route were blocked off so that the convoy could proceed without interruption; and roadblocks were set up to stall other motorists. This is classic banana republic stuff. It demonstrates the ANC's approach to the institutions of state. In the ANC's view these institutions (such as law enforcement agencies) must serve the party leaders, not the people. Power is abused for pomp and glory, because leadership is about style rather than substance. This approach is the antithesis of the values for which the ANC claims to have struggled.

Yet Zuma still manages to depict himself as a humble man of the people! His grotesque exhibitionism seems to be tolerated (even admired) by many who believe he is a champion of the poor and marginalised. The truth will dawn sooner than he imagines, as the nation learns more about the man who has lived beyond his means for years, and has become accustomed to the style in which other people's money keeps him.

The state spends a fortune on VIP protection: a reply to a parliamentary question submitted by the DA, which was received today, revealed that it costs R312 million a year to keep VIP protection service officers in the field. In truth, though, more and more people are beginning to understand how out of touch the ANC is with the hopes and dreams and the everyday needs and desires of its constituents.

This disjuncture between what the ANC is - and what it claims to be - has set the stage for the DA to re-position itself as a party of government rather than only a party of opposition. As we take power in more and more places during the elections over the next few years, we will instil a different ethos in governance. This will be symbolised immediately by measures to ensure that public officials do not abuse their power, for example by travelling in elaborate convoys with flashing blue lights. We will clamp down on officers employed by the VIP Protection Services Unit of the South African Police Service (SAPS) who break the speed limit for reasons that do not constitute a genuine emergency. And when official vehicles are due for replacement, we will seek modest, environmentally-friendly vehicles rather than the ultra-luxury sedans and 4x4s for which the ANC has become notorious.

The one good thing to have emerged from the latest incident of the ANC's Mugabe-style cavalcades is that the courts seem to be drawing the line. When Constable Nxumalo appeared in the Camperdown Magistrate's Court on Wednesday, charged with eight counts of attempted murder, magistrate Thys Taljaard denied him bail. The Magistrate rightly noted: "Police officers who deem themselves to be above the law are not automatically entitled to bail".

In order to discourage the kind of power abuse to which Nxumalo was party, the DA has called upon the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) to investigate the VIP Protection Services unit. We have asked the ICD to review all reported incidents of abuse, negligence and reckless conduct as well as any criminal charges which have been laid against past and current members of the VIP unit over the past five years.

And in order to disabuse blue-light-bullies of the notion that they are above the law, we have suggested that a code of conduct should be developed for the VIP unit over and above the existing SAPS Code of Conduct and SAPS Code of Ethics. Such a code must, amongst other things, require VIP SAPS members never to exceed the speed limit, except in cases of extreme emergency; break any other rules of the road; intimidate or in any way threaten other motorists on the road; or brandish firearms from within moving vehicles.

We trust that both of these proposals will go some way to stemming the tide of power abuse we are increasingly witnessing on our roads and in our public places.