VIP unit ‘bullies’ guilty

2012-07-10 00:00

A MINISTER who is late for a meeting does not constitute an emergency, a court decided yesterday in convicting two VIP Protection Unit officers for their roles in causing an accident.

Pietermaritzburg Regional Court magistrate Chris van Vuuren yesterday found “blue light” driver Caiphas Ndlela guilty of negligent driving and his colleague, Hlanganani Nxumalo, of negligently discharging a firearm on the N3 highway on November 15, 2008.

Van Vuuren acquitted Nxumalo of attempting to murder motorist Anuvasen Moodley and his five passengers, whose vehicle was involved in a collision due to the shooting. However, the magistrate warned that Nxumalo could well have been convicted of culpable homicide had someone died in the accident.

He said there was no evidence Nxumalo had fired directly at Moodley’s vehicle or its occupants, or that he had intended to kill them.

However, he was negligent for firing shots on a public road.

The incident took place when the officers were en route to fetch MEC Meshack Radebe from his Waterfall home for a meeting.

According to the evidence of Moodley and his passengers, which was accepted by the court, Moodley panicked and lost control when the shots were fired, his vehicle veering from southbound carriageway into oncoming traffic on the northbound highway.

The court rejected the officers’ version that Moodley deliberately braked in front of their car and tried to force it off the road, causing Nxumalo to fire warning shots in self-defence. Further, the notion that Moodley and his passengers had waited in “ambush”, as the police alleged, was dismissed as “preposterous”.

Van Vuuren said Nxumalo probably fired shots “as a show of strength and part of a bullying attitude” to demonstrate displeasure at Moodley’s vehicle impeding their progress.

However, a reasonable man would not simply fire shots out of a vehicle and Nxumalo should have foreseen the possibility of a driver losing control, he said.

Turning to Ndlela, Van Vuuren said he did not believe the fact that the officers might not have reached the MEC on time had created an emergency that allowed him to drive differently to normal drivers.

“If it is decreed an emergency, then it was self-inflicted.” said

Van Vuuren said he understood that there was pressure on the drivers to ensure that their charges reached their destinations on time, but this could not be at the cost of the law-abiding citizens.

He accepted evidence indicating that Ndlela had been driving very close to Moodley’s car.

“In my view this is a negligent form of driving from which real danger of an accident can arise.”

The case was postponed to July 26 for the defence to present evidence in mitigation of sentence.

Howard Dembovsky, national chairperson of anti-blue light lobby group Justice Project SA (JPSA), said he was pleased that the unlawful discharge of a firearm and negligent driving had resulted in convictions, but said it was disappointing that the attempted murder had not succeeded.

He said a reasonable person should be able to appreciate that discharging a firearm could result in death or serious injury.

“When that person is a policeman [or bodyguard] who has been trained in the use of firearms, it becomes even more unreasonable to assume that they could not have contemplated this.

“Quite frankly, this judgement is nothing much more than a slap on the wrist. Its deterrent value is therefore limited,” he said.

Dembovsky said blue lights should only be used in emergencies and the drivers should be thoroughly trained to drive without endangering other motorists.

He said the National Road Traffic Act had been incorrectly translated to mean that it allowed blue light drivers to drive as they wished.


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