CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — A group of armed plainclothes officers assigned to protect South Africa’s deputy president were caught on video dragging a man out of a car and then stomping on his head until he lies motionless, sparking outrage and drawing more attention to the country’s problems with police brutality.
The officers are part of the police security team protecting South Africa Deputy President Paul Mashatile, his office confirmed on Tuesday. There are no indications that Mashatile was present during the incident. His spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to phone calls seeking further comment.
The video of the weekend incident shows the officers, some of them holding rifles, dragging the man across the road on a major highway in Johannesburg and then kicking him and stomping on his head and body. The man appears to be kicked unconcious and lies motionless on his back after the attack. The officers are also seen kicking another man, who holds his hands over his head to protect himself.
The police protection unit is known in South Africa as the “blue light brigade” and has a reputation for using unneccesary force. The unit’s officers are often criticized for driving fast down highways and reacting with force if other drivers don’t immediately recognize the small blue lights and sirens in their vehicles and move out of the way.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), which handles cases of misconduct by police, said it had opened an investigation into the alleged assault of the driver of the car and his passengers by police officers.
Mashatile’s office said in a statement that he “abhors any unnecessary use of force, particularly against unarmed civilians.”
It didn’t say if Mashatile had been part of a convoy of vehicles traveling on the highway in the leadup to the incident.
The video was recorded by a person in another car not involved in the incident and posted to Twitter.
After the incident, the officers, who are part of a larger dedicated police unit tasked with protecting South African politicans and other VIPs, get into two black SUVs and drive away.
The video shows a third man also lying on the side of the road in the aftermath. It’s unclear if he was also beaten. A woman is seen getting out of the car and holding her hands above her head as the men are kicked and stomped on.
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 two men. Two of the officers seen kicking the men are holding rifles while the third has a pistol in his hand.
Amid an outcry, national police spokersperson Brig. Athlenda Mathe said in a statement that the officers have been identified “and will be subjected to internal processes.”
Police had also “successfully traced the victims of this incident,” Mathe said, and they were being interviewed.
Mathe also posted the 45-second long video on her Twitter account. She wrote in an earlier tweet that “Police officers are meant to uphold and protect the fundamental rights of every person … Such behaviour cannot be condoned.”
The statement from Mashatile’s office said South Africa’s national police commissioner had “promised a thorough investigation.”
It’s not clear what led to the incident as the car had already been pulled over by the time the video starts.
South Africa has a problem with police brutality, with the most notorious recent incident in 2012 when 34 miners were killed when police fired on them with assault rifles during a prolonged strike over wages and conditions. In another high-profile incident in 2020 that gained national attention, a man was beaten to death at his home by soldiers while police watched on.
IPID investigated 3,407 complaints of unlawful assault by police officers in the 2021-2022 financial year, according to its annual report, a rate of nearly 10 a day.