Blue-light probe

2009-01-12 00:00

With another report of shots being fired at a motorist by a blue-light VIP protection squad, news that the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) is to investigate the conduct of these units is welcome. In the many months since the intimidation of ordinary motorists by these flying convoys was first reported on the roads around Pietermaritzburg, this bullying behaviour seems to have spread across the country and has become increasingly outrageous. Up until now, instead of addressing the problem, the authorities have either dismissed the complaints or tried to browbeat the public and the press into submission. This too seems to have come to a head with reports that after the latest incident, apparently involving President Kgalema Motlanthe’s convoy, equipment belonging to SABC journalists on the scene was confiscated. If the officers were performing their legitimate duty correctly, this crude attempt to censor news coverage of the incident could have no justification. The ICD probe vindicates the concern expressed by the public through the media.

Things should never have come to this point. Certainly VIPs need protection, but a properly skilled police force can surely provide this without the flagrant disregard for the safety and the rights of the ordinary public that is exhibited here. The fact that this bullying has gone unchecked for so long, and has actually worsened, is an indictment of the senior leadership in this task force. It is an indictment, too, of the political leadership that travels in these convoys. It can be granted that in an emergency situation, the person being protected must leave matters wholly in the hands of the professional officers, but this does not prevent public representatives from exercising their authority responsibly and setting in advance the para-meters for escorting official vehicles. It is not necessary for routine journeys to be conducted as if they are dire, life-threatening emergencies.

In the final analysis, in fact, this is a test of the political leadership’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law. When no real crisis threatens, these speeding convoys are nothing less than an arrogant and lawless abuse of power.

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