MPs don't have automatic right to use blue lights – police chief

2016-04-07 21:15
(Picture via YouTube)

(Picture via YouTube)

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Cape Town – Members of Parliament do not have an automatic right to use blue light escorts, the acting commissioner of police said on Thursday as he faced a barrage of questions relating to EFF leader Julius Malema being surrounded by law enforcement officers at the weekend.

Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane told Parliament's portfolio committee on police no SAPS officers were involved in that incident, but that police would investigate it even though Malema had not pressed harassment charges.

This was because the SAPS were initially implicated when the EFF complained about Sunday's incident.

Phahlane said blue lights could be used by the police's VIP protection officers assigned to cabinet ministers and their deputies, and sometimes judges, but MPs were definitely not automatically allowed the benefit.

Speaking later on the sidelines of the committee he would not be drawn on whether Malema had police protection. "I am not going to talk about an individual, or Mr Malema, as to whether he has protection or not," he said.

But Phahlane said anyone, including private individuals, could request personal protection from the police.

Blue light issue

He said only SAPS officers, metro police and traffic police were authorised to use a blue light when driving through traffic. "It is not on for anyone who is not a law enforcement agency or a member of the police to be using a blue light," he said.

A report prepared for Phahlane on the circumstances of Malema being pulled over at the Grayston Drive off-ramp on Sunday evening claimed it all started with an unknown vehicle using a blue light.

According to the report, an off-duty officer spotted a Golf driving down Chris Hani Baragwanath Drive in Soweto on Sunday using a blue light.

The officer followed the vehicle and called in its details. The officer was told that the vehicle was "unknown", so backup was arranged.

The Golf and a Range Rover driving with it were stopped and surrounded by armed officers at the Grayston off-ramp in Sandton.

Armed police officers

Malema emerged from the Range Rover and wanted to know why they had been stopped.

The EFF later tweeted that its leader was surrounded by about 10 armed police officers who had isolated him at the intersection.

The party, which had only a few days earlier secured a Constitutional Court judgment that President Jacob Zuma had violated his oath of office, regarded this as a "clear act of intimidation".

It later emerged it was not the SAPS, but Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) officers that had surrounded Malema.

JMPD spokesperson Wayne Minnaar confirmed this to News24 by telephone on Thursday and also said there was no blue light, but an orange and white "strobe" on the Golf escorting Malema, who was in a Range Rover.

The Golf with the light also turned out to be registered to a private security company.

'JMPD did nothing wrong'

"JMPD did what they are supposed to do. They did nothing wrong," said Minnaar. "The officers did draw firearms because they had to be prepared when they stopped the car."

Hijackers and criminals are known to put blue lights on their cars to look like police officers and trick people into pulling over.

"The officer was in the right to be suspicious. With strobes you can't tell the colour at night until it is tested," he added.

"Once the officers had tested the 'strobe' and were satisfied, they stood down, and Malema and the security car were allowed to proceed."

Malema said later on Thursday that his car did not have a blue light, but he could not speak for the Golf because he was not in it.

"The off-ramp had many cars, so I don't know which car are they referring to. They stopped my car and pointed guns at me and never mentioned blue lights to me," said Malema.

At risk

During the committee meeting in Parliament, EFF MP Phillip Mhlongo complained about MPs security arrangements being discussed because this placed them at risk.

Freedom Front Plus MP, Pieter Groenewald, nevertheless wanted the Malema incident investigated to establish whether there had been a blue light as originally claimed.

Phahlane said that police would probe the incident because his officers were originally implicated in the incident.

"We certainly will not leave it there," said Phahlane.

Besides the risk of being pulled over by criminals, the use of blue lights on politicians' escort vehicles is a contentious issue in South Africa after several accidents involving high speed convoys.

Read more on:    eff  |  julius malema  |  parliament 2016

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