Monday, 23 June 2008

Blue light menace

June 22 2008 at 12:31PM

By Agiza Hlongwane

A resurgence in KwaZulu-Natal of high-speed incidents involving the so-called blue-light brigade - official vehicles involved in assaults, menace and even shooting - has drawn a pledge to take up the matter in parliament.

Inkatha Freedom Party chief whip Koos van der Merwe this week questioned the motives of politicians travelling at high speeds.

"If you are a minister, what are you afraid of? It's just a superiority complex that they have. It's terrible. All ministers should send a circular telling their people to stop this."

Van der Merwe, who has had no joy after writing last year to the National Prosecuting Authority about the matter, said he would prioritise it and ensure it was debated further in parliament in the second half of the year.

"We have to stop this," he said.

KZN authorities have been accused of turning a blind eye to claims of repeated reckless driving of state vehicles and assaults on motorists by the blue light brigade.

This is despite at least six separate complaints from motorists who claim to have been assaulted, intimidated and even shot at by people in speeding state convoys bearing flashing blue lights and blaring sirens.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sibusiso Ndebele declined to comment, saying this week he was busy preparing for the weekend's ANC provincial conference.

He referred queries to Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Bheki Cele.

However, Cele said he believed the complaints were from people who had a problem with "darkies" driving cars with blue lights.

Referring to the driver of a KZN VIP protection vehicle who was alegedly punched by an angry motorcyclist after his vehicle collided with another car, Cele said motorists had asked for trouble from the police by drawing first blood.

Motorists who have fallen foul of the blue light brigade in less than three weeks include:

* Tina Allison, who was allegedly blocked by a bakkie with a flashing blue light at the uMvoti Toll Plaza on June 7. She is the widow of Mike Allison, who was killed in a collision with Arts and Culture MEC Weziwe Thusi's car last September.

* A woman in a white VW Golf who was reportedly instructed by a Metro policeman via a loudspeaker to get out of the f***** way while driving on the Chief Albert Luthuli (M4 Southern Freeway) on Thursday.

* Peter Driver, a 63-year-old Durban man who was allegedly punched a number of times and nearly concussed when he failed to make way for six men who had flashed their blue lights to try to get him out of his lane. The incident happened last Friday, June 13.

* Deena Mutharay, 34, of Chatsworth, reportedly had a metal object thrown at his car by the occupants of a white minibus on the same day. Travelling on the Durban-bound carriageway of the Higginson Highway, the Independent on Saturday reported, he had failed to make way for a blue-light-flashing minibus when it wanted to overtake him from the middle lane. This was after it had been unsuccessful in ordering a black VW Jetta out of the fast lane. The metal object left a dent on Mutharay's car door.

Shot at

* Angus Kenard, 28, of Ladysmith, who said he was slapped at least 20 times by the occupants of three SUVs while travelling to Durban on the N2 near Estcourt on June 5. At least one of the vehicles, a BMW X5, is registered to the SAPS Protection Services.

* Dan Mathee, 84, said he was almost pushed off the road and shot at by occupants of a white minibus with a flashing blue light and loud sirens on the Southern Freeway. This happened on the same day as Kenard's ordeal.

Last month, the biker who allegedly punched a VIP protection driver at an accident scene near Camperdown on the N3 was subsequently applauded by motorists fed-up with speeding blue light convoys. Cele, citing the incident, said, "These people who ride bikes - don't you think, by slapping a policeman, they are asking for trouble from the police?"

The MEC said he did not believe there was a problem with the speed at which government convoys were driving or the manner in which emergency blue lights were being used.

He said, "There are certain types of South Africans with an attitude that needs to change. That attitude maybe has to do with the skin colour of the drivers. These people who are complaining must accept that it is 'darkies' in those cars, and it will be so for a long time to come."

Cele said motorists seemed to forget what they had learnt at driving school: keep left and pass right.

Asked what his department was doing about the assaults, intimidation and a shooting, Cele said, "If you find anyone abusing the system, report them to us. We will institute proper disciplinary action."

He noted the shooting had been referred to police for investigation.

Responding to a Tribune question on the highest speed at which he had ever been driven, Cele said, "I don't watch the speed. I read my papers and drink my coffee in the car."

He added, "The law says, if a policeman is driving, regardless of speed, they have a right to switch on the blue light if they want to pass. Any policeman, as soon as he steps into a government vehicle, if he likes, can switch it on."

However, Gary Ronald, spokesperson for the Automobile Association, took issue with this interpretation of the law.

"The Act is very clear. You may only use a blue light and exceed the speed limit if it is safe and under due consideration of other road users. You can't speed, you can't jump traffic lights if it's not safe to do so. Due regard has to be paid to other road users."

He said the AA had raised the issue at portfolio committee level.

"The ministers of transport and justice really need to sit down and take action."

Jay Kruuse, head of the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), said that by bringing race into the argument, Cele was trying to deflect attention from the "real issues".

He said drivers of state vehicles were "there to serve, not to show off. Their conduct needs to be investigated because these are not isolated cases. And you would expect the premier to condemn something like this".

"We as the PSAM encourage people on the receiving end of such incidents to report them to the police or Independent Complaints Directorate. If no action is taken, they should involve the public protector," he said.


The head of the KZN branch of the Independent Complaints Directorate, Tabisa Ralo, encouraged motorists to report illegal behaviour by the police on the road.

"It is an abuse of power and we will investigate any reported accidents. You don't just put it on because you woke up late and your child is late for school," she said.

According to Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula, 28 VIP protection service vehicles had been involved in accidents last year, costing taxpayers R668 000 in damages.

The revelations followed allegations of reckless driving by convoys involving ANC President Jacob Zuma, KZN Premier Sibusiso Ndebele and Public Works MEC Lydia Johnson, whose vehicle was involved in an accident near the Pavilion in Westville last year.

Mike Thompson of Empangeni said he had, out of curiosity, followed two vehicles from Mtunzini to Empangeni on the N2, which were driving at 170km/h.

"I followed them to a service station in Empangeni where they filled up for fuel and didn't seem to me to be in a hurry. I confronted the black-clad, sunglassed, firearmed driver of one of the vehicles and asked him where he had got his driver's licence. He was more concerned about my swearing than the danger he was on the road."

Thompson said he had reported the incident to the Mpimpa (official police informant) hotline, but had heard nothing.

He also said he had video footage, filmed by his son, that showed two state vehicles driving in excess of 170km/h.

This article was originally published on page 1 of Tribune on June 22, 2008


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