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Showing the finger to the blue light gang

05 March 2010 Gareth Stokes
Gareth Stokes, FAnews Online Editor

Gareth Stokes, FAnews Online Editor

South Africa finally has a media export. Google the phrase ‘blue light gang’ and you’ll find no less than 68 500 mentions of a term synonymous with untoward behaviour by the country’s elite police and VIP protection units. In the years since the country’s

We hate using the term banana republic to describe our beautiful country, but senior politicians are making a mockery of their ‘serve and protect’ promise. The dozens of bodyguards and police escorts serve no purpose apart from stoking egos. Nowhere was this trend more evident than at the recent opening of parliament, 11 February 2010. Get hold of a recording of the arrival of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and President Jacob Zuma. Anyone notice who had more motorcycles heading his motorcade? We’re paying away thousands in tax rand so that politicians can command undeserved respect. In an even worse affront to taxpayers rumours have surfaced that ANC Youth League President Julius Malema’s protection needs are state-sponsored to the tune of R300 000/month.

Showing the middle finger

What should the law-abiding citizen to do as 20 speeding cars grow larger in their rear-view mirrors? They might make their car a bit wider than necessary, always mindful of the consequence of obstructing someone so inflated with power. In recent years we’ve heard of VIP police threatening motorists with their weapons, forcing cars to pull off the road, assaulting drivers who refuse to yield promptly and in the worst cases opening fire on motorists who resist their instructions. In 2008 Magistrate Thys Taljaard denied bail to Constable Hlanganani Nxumalo for shooting out the tyre of a vehicle that failed to yield to him. The ensuing head-on accident caused injury to six passengers. “There’s a history of VIP members terrorising road users and having no regard for the law,” said Taljaard. “Can one really blame the press for referring to them as the blue light gang of KZN?”

Chumani Maxwele is the latest victim of VIP police bullying tactics. He was out jogging when he encountered the President’s posse and allegedly waved the middle finger as the circus charged past. He claims he was just waving his hand to object to the hullabaloo. For his troubles he was bundled into one of the vehicles, had a bag put over his head, roughed up for hours and then forced to pen an apology to Zuma in exchange for his release. He will most likely institute a civil claim against the minister of police for a gross violation of his constitutional rights. Zuma’s response to the incident was unimpressive. He simply said he hadn’t seen what had happened and wouldn’t comment, once again missing an opportunity to speak out against the abuse of power...

Talking tough in the Western Cape

Leader of the opposition, Helen Zille, has largely condemned this ‘blue light’ behaviour. Two years ago she criticised Zuma (then African National Congress president) for “encouraging classic banana-republic stuff” by travelling through Limpopo in a convoy of 33 vehicles. “Even though Zuma [was] not a public office-bearer, 22 of these vehicles belonged to state law-enforcement agencies, and the whole cavalcade stretched for over 1km!” said Zille, in her weekly online newsletter. In her view – and that of many ordinary South Africans – the politicians are abusing power for pomp and glory... “This is pure power abuse,” wrote Zille. “It is criminal behaviour. It is the clearest manifestation of the culture that has taken hold of the ANC. Believing they represent the will of the people – ANC leaders and their army of bodyguards [have decided] they don't have to obey laws.”

Law enforcement agencies are supposed to protect citizens from power abuse and not become accessories to such abuses. The Western Cape provincial executive has already taken steps to limit the use of the police’s VIP protection services. “We did this because we don’t believe that politicians should have special rights and privileges that other citizens don’t have,” said Zille. “We share the public’s disgust at being forced off the road by blue light bullies escorting self-important politicians.” Zille took things a step further after the latest motorcade incident. As premier of the Western Cape she has decided to pass laws banning politicians from using blue light convoys in the province unless there is a genuine emergency. She quickly disclaimed: “and being late for a meeting does not constitute an emergency!”

Just moments after her no-nonsense speech allegations surfaced of the Cape Town mayor, Dan Plato, chasing around in his Toyota Prius in a convoy of sorts. A motorist alleges he saw the mayor’s car speeding on the N1 with a blue light escort “glued to his backside.” We watch with interest whether Zille has success in enforcing here tough new law, but we cannot help thinking Zuma’s motorcade might show the Western Cape premier the finger too!

Editor’s thoughts: As a frequent commuter between Johannesburg and Pretoria we’ve witnessed numerous motorcades running the gauntlet of heavy traffic to get one or two ministers to their meetings on time. Motorists tend to give way, reluctantly, for fear of crossing the VIP protection officers – a clear sign South Africa is moving into police state territory. Do you have any interesting ‘blue light’ stories? We’d love you to share them below, or send them to gareth@fanews.co.za

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