South Africa arrests 8 officers assigned to the country’s deputy president over highway brutality

FILE - Riot police officers shield off stones thrown by students during their protest against university tuition hikes outside the union building in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, Oct. 23, 2015. Eight police officers assigned to a security team protecting South Africa’s deputy president have been arrested and are expected to appear in court on Monday, July 24, 2023 after they were caught on video kicking and stomping on two men on a Johannesburg highway this month. One of the men was kicked unconscious in the attack. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, File)

Eight police officers assigned to a security team for South Africa’s deputy president appeared in court Monday facing assault and other charges after they were caught on video kicking and stomping two off-duty trainee soldiers whose car they pulled over on a Johannesburg highway, according to AP News.

The plainclothes VIP protection officers were driving in a convoy escorting Deputy President Paul Mashatile when they dragged the two men out of their car and attacked them earlier this month. Some of the officers carried assault rifles.

One of the trainees was kicked unconscious in the attack, which was caught on video by another motorist and shared widely on social media.

The car carrying Mashatile continued on to his house, and the deputy president was not present when the alleged assaults happened. Mashatile has condemned the conduct of the officers, who have been suspended from work.

The eight officers were arrested Sunday and held at a Johannesburg police station before they appeared in court for a bail hearing on Monday. No decision was made on whether they would be eligible for bail.

One of the officers testified that they pulled the car over because it was driving too close to Mashatile’s car and considered a threat.

The officers are part of a VIP protection unit known in South Africa as the “blue light brigade” and which has a reputation for driving dangerously fast and reacting with unnecessary force if cars don’t immediately get out of the way. The unit normally operates in unmarked vehicles with blue sirens.

The witness’ video sparked outrage in a country that has a problem with police brutality.

They are accused of assaulting three men, although the video only captures them kicking and stomping on two men while a third lies next to them. A woman who was also traveling in the car is seen standing with her hands in the air as the officers attack the men.

The officers were traveling in two black SUVs and are seen getting back into their vehicles and driving away, leaving one of the men lying motionless on the side of the busy highway.

Prosecutors and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, which investigates police misconduct, said the eight would be charged with assault, malicious damage to property and firearm offenses.

A union that represents members of the armed forces said all of the attack victims are in the South African army, although they were not on duty at the time.