Four police officers assigned to a security team protecting South Africa’s deputy president will be charged with assault and other offences after kicking and stomping on at least two men after they pulled their car over on a highway, according to the police department.
The weekend incident provoked outrage in South Africa where complaints of police brutality are common, after the video of the armed plainclothes officers attacking the motorists was posted on social media.
The four officers are facing charges of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, pointing a firearm and malicious damage to property, police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said on Wednesday.
One of the men who was kicked and stomped on by the officers appeared to be unconscious after the incident and lay motionless on his back on the side of the highway in Johannesburg.
At least seven officers were involved in the incident, with some of them holding rifles while kicking and stomping on the men. The four officers facing criminal charges have also been served with letters notifying them that police intend to suspend them from their jobs, Mathe said.
The officers are part of the security team protecting South Africa Deputy President Paul Mashatile, although he was not present during the incident, his office said on Tuesday.
Mashatile’s office said in a statement that the incident happened in Johannesburg, and added that he “abhors any unnecessary use of force, particularly against unarmed civilians”.
The 45-second video was recorded by a person in another car not involved in the incident, and posted to Twitter.
The police protection unit, known in South Africa as the “blue light brigade”, has a reputation for using unnecessary force. The unit is known for fast driving along highways and reacting with force if other drivers do not immediately recognise the small blue light and siren on their cars and move out of the way.
After the incident, the officers, who are part of a dedicated police unit tasked with protecting South African politicians and other VIPs, got into two black SUVs and drove away.
At least seven police officers, some of them wearing suits, were involved and the video shows at least three of them kicking and stomping on the men. Two of the officers seen kicking them are holding rifles while the third has a pistol in his hand.
The video shows a third man also lying on the side of the road. It is not clear if he was also beaten. A woman is seen getting out of the car and holding her hands above her head during the incident.
Amid an outcry, police spokesperson Mathe had said in a statement on Tuesday that the police officers have been identified “and will be subjected to internal processes”.
Police had also “successfully traced the victims of this incident”, Mathe said, adding they were being interviewed.
Mathe also posted the video on her Twitter account. “Police officers are meant to uphold and protect the fundamental rights of every person … Such behaviour cannot be condoned,” she wrote in an earlier tweet.
It is not clear what led to the incident as the car had already been pulled over by the time the video started.
One of the most notorious incidents of police brutality in South Africa was in 2012, when 34 miners were killed as police fired on them with assault rifles during a strike over wages and conditions. In a more recent incident in 2020, a man was beaten to death at his home by soldiers as police watched on.
The independent body that deals with misconduct by police investigated 3,407 cases of unlawful assault by officers in the 2021-22 financial year, a rate of approximately 10 a day. Some other reports put the number of complaints of police brutality at more than 5,500 annually.